Apr 2, 2014

Things I heard today….

Waiting to board my morning train to work:
Cop on a bike: “Beautiful day today”
Train conductor: “They say it might rain”
Cop on bike: “Don't care. Just glad to see the sun.”

Mar 12, 2014

Missing a flight but not Hope

"The shadow makes it look SO real!"
Oyon (7) has the sharp little ears of kids his age. Eager to make sense of the world but without the requisite input, his antennae seem to constantly be picking up small details that he then mosaics together his own way. So he hears a lot that we choose to not share with him - from kids at school, snippets of radio and the general conversation surging around him.

He's completely into aircraft and flight again, undoubtedly fueled by the recent trip to India. So I assumed that it was only a matter of time before he heard about the missing Malaysian Airlines airplane and demanded to know more. In the interest of peace, I broached the subject myself as he played yesterday after homework. 

Mar 5, 2014

Say 'Hi' to your neighbors week

'Hi' again Bob Thx for the coffee!
The good folks at REACH are at it again.

The temp this AM at the Waltham commuter train station was an unnerving (for March) 12 degrees F per my car though my stinging, frozen face scoffed and pushed it down another few degrees. Yet Bob from last years event (here he was in 2013!) undauntedly offered me a hot cuppa with a warm smile and that quintessential connector word -



Mar 4, 2014

Listen To Your mother....and maybe your Father too.

Usually when I hear "You've been selected !" it's followed by unlikely schemes for improbable vacations or offers to participate in time (and soul)-destroying surveys. Imagine my surprise when this time I found I'm about to perform at a wonderful public event called 'Listen To Your Mother'! After a pinch or two to check that I hadn't succumbed to jet-lag (just returned from a trip home, to Kolkata, India) I realized that indeed, I'm part of 'Giving motherhood a microphone' .Year 5 now in 32 cities all over the US.

Feb 26, 2014

My casual dalliance with Facebook Free Fridays (FFF)

About a year ago I hit a wall. Of noise. It was my Facebook wall.

My FB community has served me in unexpected ways, from forging new connections with old acquaintances to exploring hobbies that would have otherwise gone unexplored. From being in touch with breaking news to gleaning insights on current debates. From reading heartwarming stories about the goodness still around us to cute kid stories from doting parents. From reading inspiring recipes to getting links to great web articles I would have otherwise missed.

Perhaps more valuable than all of the above has been the ability to engage in discussion, debate and musings with people who, if not real-life 'freinds', have taken on that mantle through meaningful FB interaction. In the midst of busy work days and hectic after-hours,  juggling home, work and parenting, it's provided an easy release. Escapist entertainment like reading or TV can only go so far as they require free swatches of time. But there are always free minutes lurking in-between tasks for instant 'conversation' and stimulation that is unparalleled in real life. I know that the dynamics of communication get permanently warped when diverse people who don't know each other can jump into the fray and exchange thoughts with impunity for the social graces. But it's uniquely liberating too. You won't have to see those faces at the water cooler the next morning or share a meal with them that weekend, so it's easier to be frank and speak your mind.

Feb 3, 2014

Keepin' it real.

Blog stats
Signed into my blog account and got a thrill to see the following stats on a 1 day old post:

They're reading me in Brazil! 

73 people in just 1 day!

As I furiously patted myself on the back and let the gentle shower of validation wash away my writer's insecurities, these sobering thoughts washed up.
1. "They" are not reading me in Brazil. Precisely 1 person - a freind on a work trip with nothing else to do - is. (Thanks Saikat!)
2. The 'Don't track my own pageviews' option in my account was not turned on. Undoubtedly, I'm reading my blog.
3. Technical difficulties made me delete then re-post the link on my FB wall, which is where I trap my unsuspecting victims readers. Some followed the second link to the same post  (from a combo of loyalty, coercion and boredom) and were double-counted.
4. The tally counts the people who landed on the page but not what they did next, which was hopefully not surf immediately away.

The water in that comforting shower ran out. I'm now trying to pretend that it never even happened. While re-checking my Traffic stats.

Feb 1, 2014

Listen To Your Mother: First Un-born

The kidney-shaped hospital tray is a deep, cheerful red. It's a stunning mismatch with both its contents and this moment in my life. Empty and tired, I try to focus my bleary, post-surgery eyes on the advancing tray, tightly gripping the kind hand of Nurse Janice. As I struggle for clarity through an anesthetic fog and peer into the tray, a single thought forms in my head: who knew a two month young fetus could look so perfect? Whole. Real. And utterly unaffected by its own untimely demise.

Two months earlier, on a sunny afternoon, the positive home pregnancy test had made my head boil with thoughts. Included were 'Already?' and 'Yikes- I'm responsible for another life!' and 'Wow!'  That last one bounced around quite a bit. 'Wow'.  However I sagely resolved to shelf all dreams and plans for a while, well schooled as I was in the high miscarriage rate in the first trimester. Especially for 30-something's. No quivering mass of emotions or dewy-eyed delight here. A model of practicality and moderation instead, who ate well, rested some and exercised just enough. We even took a long planned vacation to Iceland with friends and made some great memories. 
So I was all the less prepared for the bleeding that began after our return. When I showed up for a routine ultrasound scan - my third - I was calm. Excited even: another chance to see Baby! The first misgivings dawned when the technician wouldn’t answer my questions about the baby’s health. But she did let me look at the monitor.
Baby had grown a recognizable head. Limbs were visible  - even in the gray-toned confusion of the ultrasound. But there was no flickering light, no jagged heartbeat graph. Just a flat line on a still screen. I won't forget Dr. Shakr, a grizzled, white haired old soul. Nor the gentleness with which he clasped my hands and told me he was sorry, like he really meant it. No-one knew why these things happen, he said. I was not to blame myself and remember that it might have even been for the best. Our bodies often abandon abnormal fetuses in the timeless auto-selection reflex that has ensured our very existence today.

I floated through the next day in a bubble of suspended animation. My world was like a cheap-print comic book: things had shifted just enough that colors spilled out of the outlines. People hurrying on the streets, gravel crunching underfoot, the feel of a morning bagel in my hand – everything LOOKED right but felt wrong. All the maudlin sentimentality
over pregnancy that I had resisted, caught up with me. The stillness in my core - where a baby still lay (not ‘lived’) - made the thrills of the last few months feel incandescent in comparison. With all signs of new life now gone, I finally realized just how much hope and pride I had accrued. I tried to heed my husband’s well intentioned advice to not 'dwell' on it. But try carrying around - inside you - a person you have let down and then try not to 'dwell'. I know my husband and Dr. Shakr were right, that it likely wasn’t anything I’d done. But Baby had me, only me, to depend on for survival and I did not, could not, come through on that implicit promise.

And so, one span-less day and end-less night later, we arrived at the hospital for the D&C surgery. My baby had been downgraded into ‘fetal tissue’ and needed removing.

I expected to just be anesthetized and then wake up to cramping, bleeding and a fresh start. And I did, but with a bit of a detour. When I came to, I surprised myself by agreeing, when asked, to view the fetus. They hadn’t yet let my husband in to the recovery room.

That’s when I met that red kidney tray. It held a plump little bubble with hazy skin, the size of an apricot. It rolled a bit as the tray moved, letting me see through a translucent bit, like a little window. I can no longer use that clinical, impersonal term, 'fetus' for the baby that nestled within. I found myself doing the instinctive inventory of a new mother. I counted a pair each of arms, legs and eyes but it added up to just one. One baby.  I thanked my poor vision for the significant grace that I couldn’t count fingers and toes.

Yet, it turned out to be an unexpected blessing: a child had existed and received the dignity of acknowledgement from the only person who’d ever known it. And I got to say good bye to a perfect little person who simply had a short stay. That last, obscene ultrasound is now almost erased from memory and in its place is the bittersweet image of a peaceful, perfect little baby.

To anyone who thinks there is no closure for the loss of an unborn child, let me reassure you that there is. Or at least there was, for me. This much I know now: pain, when trapped in the dark recesses of your mind, assumes proportions way beyond its due. Release it into the light and watch it gradually fade.

My friend Anu said it best, “Why not grieve as a village instead of individually?” She’s right. We’ve made room for people to speak of unutterable losses like abuse, addiction and death yet this one routinely slips-by. If it’s easily ignored because the loss is invisible, rest assured it is not to at least one person. If it’s easily ignored because the topic seems morbid, well so is the passing of a beloved grandparent. We don’t begrudge our friends their wistful recollections of their ‘Nana’. We support their catharsis and promote their healing. Unborns are really not that different. Acknowledging an Unborn is a powerful thing  and as worthy of sharing as the joys of a firstborn.

Speaking of which, we have a 7 year old son now. He was born in early November and lights up our lives. A few months after we celebrate his birthday, I mark another one. Our first child would have arrived in the middle of January, a winter baby like his or her younger brother. I sometimes wonder if the hair would have curled like my son's and if the nose would have been as button-like. But I no longer mourn not knowing. I don't pine for my first un-born: I’m content to just remember.

Oyon-isms (7+), February 2014
On discussing a billionaires opulent, 22 storied home in Mumbai (that houses a family of only 4):
Oyon: Why did he need such a big house?
Me: I'm not sure he needed it but he could afford to build it. So he did.
Oyon: Maybe he had SO much money it was over-flowing so he had to use it up.
Me: I can think of others ways he could have used it. Can't you?
Oyon: Yeah. I know! Maybe he had so much furniture they couldn't even move. So he built another home to store it.
Me (giving up on explaining ostentation and really, not quite wanting to anyway): You might be right.

Jan 31, 2014

Listen To Your Mother: Kolkata, Kenya and a faded coverlet

My mother was a housewife. Not a 'homemaker' but a wife who stayed at home. The mom part went without saying, though I'm sure I said it a lot anyway. It was “Maa! Maa! Maa!” for me constantly until I turned 6 and went to school for the first time. She defined my world in every possible way.

We left Kolkata, India when I was around two. It was known as Calcutta back then. As the oldest son, my father had the responsibility of supporting a large extended family in the traditional Indian way. A young electrical engineer in state employ had only so far to go in the early '70s though and East Africa needed electrification.

Jan 29, 2014

'Not happy'

The other night, I tuned into a documentary titled 'Happy'. It achieved my desired end and put me to sleep within minutes but not before I'd caught the requisite opening scene of a poor rickshaw driver in Kolkata, India (my hometown). He grinned happily while describing the joys in his subsistence level existence, full of confessed privations. The fuzzy thoughts running through my head as eyes lids dropped was "That's not 'happy': that's 'not sad'". In the light of day I recalled and altered my reaction: the interviewee WAS speaking of his simple sources of joy. That I'd read them as being illusory said a lot more about my entitled, elitist perspective than any weaknesses in his skills of self-expression. And that brought me around to this topic of 'happy' that had been buzzing around my head for a long time. I've read bits of Daniel Gilbert and Gretchen Rubin (authors delving into 'Happiness'), news magazines and zeitgeist tracking online sites and have a dawning awareness that deconstructing our 'happiness' is now part of our cultural fabric. At least for self-identified 'thinkers'.

Jan 22, 2014

Tales of tails

"A mouse just ran over my foot!" is the status I chose for my FB wall today.

It was one of those supposedly funny chain gags that ripple out from FB from time to time.The modern version of a chain letter. I commented on someones odd sounding status and was then tasked with picking an odd status for myself from amongst a list to trap unsuspecting commenter's from MY FB network and further the chain.I didn't find it particularly funny and was about to pass when one of the status options caught my attention. To be fair, they all did: included were "I was approached by someone to become a prostitute" and "I'm going to adopt a monkey". (Really, who thinks up this stuff and have they considered using their powers for good?) Anyway, the one about the mouse tugged gently at me, suggesting I lighten up a bit and laugh with some friends.

Jan 9, 2014

Alien in the garden

While watering our summer garden I spotted this on one of our tomato plants. I hollered for Oyon to come see his classroom science lesson come to life. I thought I'd found the butterfly eggs he'd been diligently seeking over the past few weeks.


We gleefully nosed closer for a better look then jumped back in shock. A quick web search left us gazing sadly at the poor parasitized Hornworm hanging off our plant. Seems it was hosting Wasp cocoons. And by 'hosting' I don't mean making sure the sheets were fresh, clean towels were handy and that there was something more interesting than Fruit Loops for breakfast. They were feeding the wasp larvae in the most literal sense.
Because that's what was happening to those Hornworms: they were being eaten alive from the inside. As I tried not to gag and groped to relocate my ecological sensitivity so I could reconcile to the gory wonder that was the food-chain, two further surprises (via Google) came whizzing my way:
Sphinx Moth:
The 'Hummingbird' that had delighted us earlier in the summer by hovering next to Oyon's right ear for a few seconds was more likely a Hummingbird MOTH. They are drawn to Butterfly Bushes (like our neighbors) but also to the Anthurium I'd planted. Some, I'd placed in the vegetable bed (to draw pollinators for our veggies) and others around our front door in planters - which is where the Moth had appeared. And what is one of the stages of a Sphinx Moth's life cycle? Hornworm! 'Curiouser and curioser' turns out be just the phrase when you're falling down this kind of rabbit hole. Lewis Carroll must've had a kitchen garden.
Braconid Wasp:
The delicate little red-winged 'flies' that we had been spotting (and admiring) outside all summer long? Turns out the only thing 'fly' about them is their preferred mode of travel. Actually Braconid Wasps, these insects hold only warmth for humans in their dear little hearts and no sting at all. They buzz around, generously pollinating to ensure that zucchini flowers turn into zucchini vegetables and constantly searching for.....Hornworm! Yes, the plot does indeed thicken here. Hornworms, doomed offspring of Sphinx Moths, are the budget motel of choice in the Braconid Wasp world. They lay their eggs (via stinger) just under the Hornworms skin and cocoons emerge in time, housing larvae that  then avail of the round-the-clock, all-you-can-eat buffet until it's time to emerge as adult wasps.
So to connect the dots: the flowers in our garden attracted pollinators that made our plants productive THEN they produced predators to destroy said produce but THEN one predator-pollinator attacked the other, interrupting both its dastardly plans and its life cycle and.....SCORE for us vegetable loving humans!!!!
It's called 'bio control' and practised mindfully as 'Integrated Pest Management' in ecologically conscious farming operation. In our garden though, it was just another awe-inspiring instance of Nature thumbing her nose at our paltry efforts to 'save' the planet as it effortlessly functions the way it has to.
Baby Braconid Wasps emerge after gestation.

Empty cocoons on a spent Hornworm.

All that remains

Jan 8, 2014

News Graphs

Last winter 6 year old Oyon took to leafing through the Boston Globe newspaper that his grandmother left on the dining table. And demanding explanations that I was hesitant to offer.

His Dad often discusses current affairs with him as they browse news magazines together but this was new territory for me. I periodically shared a few dumbed down headlines with him but my day of reckoning came when he declared that it looked like the world was in really bad shape and that he didn't want to hear any more news.

He didn't look happy. He can be a brooder and his sadness was unmistakable, if slight.

Not surprising either as the winter of 2012 was particularly brutal in our world. The Newtown school shootings were followed closely by the Delhi bus gang-rape, there was war everywhere, we lost 2 family members and people close to us were suffering from a gamut of very real challenges. There wasn't exactly sunshine and light surrounding him no matter how tightly we kept the filters in place.

Plus, 6 year olds can take things quite literally: if the newspaper was reporting that the world was in a bad way, it must be true. That particular Saturday morning, when my little son gave up on the world with a heavy sigh, I bristled at what the world was doing to this little mind, what dark pesrpsectives were etching themselves across this blank page full of promise. This little person, who would one day go on to shape the world we are leaving to him, was learnign to give up before he even got started. I've no soaring hope from him that he'll become a world-chagning leader. Good for him if he does, but I do'nt need him to. I DO need him to the best perons he can be and that involves thinking for himself .

So I was'nt going to give in so easily. The 'graphs' his Kindergarten class had been drawing and their science game of Disproving Hypotheses flashed across my mind.  I scribbled a little chart with multiple columns, labelled the first 2 -'Good news' and 'Bad News' and handed it to him along with a few markers. I told him we were going to investigate what he just said.

We then got to work trying to see if all the news really WAS as bad as it seemed. No declared hypothesis but he understood (I think) that we were testing a notion for validity. We fetched his little globe so we knew where in the world the news was and I verbally summarized each article on the front page for him. He happily evaluated each news item then filled in a cell in the appropriate column (good vs. bad news) for a little while.

Then he piped up with one of the most wonderful insights that I have ever encountered in my 42 years on this planet. Paraphrased, it went something like this:
    "We need some more words, Mummum. It's not all 'good news' or 'bad news'. Some stuff starts out 'good' then turns into 'bad news'. But some OTHER stuff is sad but actually, kind of good!"

To my puzzled look he patiently explained the following about all the A380 Dreamliner aircraft that were just grounded (because of battery caused fires). Again , paraphrased, it went something like this:
  " It's BAD NEWS that people can't use those new, expensive planes. But isn't it actually 'GOOD news that they're fixing it so people don't suddenly fall out of the sky?"

I can no longer remember an example of how 'good news' proved to not be so. Suffice it to say, he didn't find too many of these instances. Already, he had learnt to read what he WANTED to but I was happy to have him err on the side of optimism: there's plenty of time to teach him about Reality and introduce him to Cynicism.

The clincher came though when he asked me to add a category for 'Kind of silly'. The news item that prompted this was that some drunk police officers from our neighboring town, Newton, had chucked eggs at their supervisors house and then got caught. He refused to really qualify this as 'news' of  any sort and insisted on the special category. He chuckled a bit at the silly choice they made ("Didn't they know they'd get in trouble?!") but also at the thought of them handcuffing themselves since they were both THE law AND breaking it! When he'd recovered from that particular giggling fit we incorporated some basic math and took a look at just how bad the news really was.

This is how the world looked, per the The Boston Globe to my 6 year old Son in early 2012. In case you ca'nt read it, there are 13 pieces of good headlines vs. 6 bad:

We repeated the exercise the following month:

The 'Kind of silly' article was a picture of some Patriots (our football team) fans crying in a sports bar over the team's loss. He not only thought it was silly to cry when you lost, he wondered why anyone would put that picture in the paper! I did'nt have an answer for that one.

I really liked the way he categorised the world though. I love that when you add it all up, there's always more in the 'Good' column than the 'bad', that not everything is how it seems and that my little man learnt first-hand that the world is as good or as bad as you make it out to be.

Dec 5, 2013

Conversation Map: Ski-mask to Salmon-eating shark

Date: Dec 3, 2013, Tuesday
Time: 7:30 AM
Starting point: Ski-mask
Ending point: salmon-eating shark
As we are donning outerwear to leave for school this winter morning -
1. Oyon pulls on his hat and observes that it does'nt warm his cold face. He remembers a Spiderman ski mask he saw at the store recently that might. While he was there, he also saw a 'Pegasus' Bey Blade toy. He really wants the 'Pegasus'!

2. Wonders where the names of Bey Blades come from since another is named 'Sagitario' (not 'Sagittaraius' per O). Guesses they were inspired by constellations since he knows Pegasus is one.

3. I suggest Greek mythology is really the source for both the constellation and toy names.
But what are myths?
I say ancient cultures used them in lieu of books and videos to teach people things and record facts.
What are some other mythologies?
I tell him many cultures have them - Africa, China, Japan and of-course - India.

4. In fact, the 'Ramayana' is part of ours - to his delight since he 'lurves' the Ramyana.
What's USA mythology?

5.  I have to gently break it to him that the USA is not Ancient at all but really quite young as a culture. Native Americans have lived on this continent for many, many centuries though and have a rich mythology.
Oyon thinks about it and disagrees - the USA does have mythology! It's all the worlds mythology combined since Americans come from everywhere!!

6.  I concede the point and compliment his reasoning.
If myths are meant to teach people, then are there math stories? He loves the addition stories they have to make-up in class but apparently struggles with subtraction stories. He could do with some help.

7. I immediately quiz him with a few subtraction problems, thinking the problem is with his math skills.
He easily cracks them then reveals that his struggle is with the math stories not the math.

8. I quickly take off my teaching hat and query further: he's usually great at making up stories. What seems to be the problem?
The problem is that can only 'do' salmon and sharks.
He responds to my utterly bewildered expression by patiently explaining that he always ends up telling stories where a shark eats a certain number of salmon and another number is left over. He's bored of salmon and shark stories but whenever he tries other characters they end up adding together - not subtracting.

We are now parked in our car outside our neighbor's home, brainstorming other story topics for subtraction and trying to rewire his addition-crazy math brain. They have not yet done much subtraction in this first quarter of First grade. Our carpool folks arrive and our conversation comes to a natural end. 

Where did YOU travel today?

Dec 3, 2013

Conversation Map: From couch to woodpeckers

Journey date: nov 30, 2013, Saturday
Travel time: About 30 mines, starting around 6:30 PM
Starting point: Couch safety
Ending point: Woodpeckers

I finish cleaning the kitchen and join Oyon in our den in the free half-hour before leaving for dinner at a friends home when -
1. I find Oyon is reading, perched on top of the narrow back of the couch. Right behind him is his study table and a cup full of sharpened pencils, pointy ends facing up.
I caution him about his
precarious perch, remind him he's not allowed to sit on the top because he could get stabbed if he topples backwards onto the cup.

2. He scoffs a little at the idea of a pencil having stabbing potential but slithers quickly down nevertheless.
I tell him about how mine did when I was 6 and trying to balance it, point end down, on my palm.

3. He asks if I needed stitches because his friend Matthew did when he hurt his head.

4. I said I didn't because it was not a big enough cut but his Baba did when his knife slipped last year. (Addendum: he then very unhelpfully observed how brave Baba was about it and reminded me of the time that I chickened out of stitches for an arm wound after crashing my bike and ended up with a horrible infection.)

5. He wants to know how stitches work. I talk about how zippers pull together the sides of a coat to close it. I mention his dad will need them soon for upcoming dental surgery because his incisions will be long and deep.

6. He wants to know what sutures are made of. Will they have to come out when the skin is healed? Then he confirms that the doctor will make cuts on purpose and wonders how much it'll hurt.

7. Anaesthesia comes up. We chat about how it works by putting parts of the brain to sleep. A recent trip to the USS Constitution comes up next and how there was no anaesthesia back then - sailors got limbs amputated without much pain relief. 

8. He wonders about what the docs did with all the chopped off limbs and figures they tossed them overboard. Then asks who discovered anaesthesia.

9. I put it on our mental list of 'stuff to look up later' along with 'what sutures are made of'. I tell him what I DO know is that many modern meds originate in plants. Talk of Aspirin in Amazonian tree bark, holistic medicine and how ancients treated themselves without the help of factories and pills.

10. He is suitably impressed and wonders if there are more undiscovered medicines in the Amazon forests.

11. I observe that's why it's important to preserve the world's forests.

12. He wonders if there might be new kinds of animals there too. Or maybe ones they think are extinct, like the Dodo bird. 

13. I do a brief detour about how we should read 'The land that time forgot' and chat about the extinct Ivory-billed woodpecker that was rediscovered recently. 

14. He tells me about another cool woodpecker he heard about that spins on its beak to use it like a drill to make holes.

His Dad arrives, freshly showered. It's time to go hangout with our friends.

Where did YOU travel today?