Mar 18, 2013

Catharsis, confession and closure.

You know those ten ton anxiety bombs that fall whistling out of nowhere and level you emotionally? Good for you, if the answer is 'No, you loser!'.

I'm cleaning up the debris from more than a few such recent collisions.  Even as I make some progress towards avoiding them entirely.

I finally decided to write about this.
For catharsis, confession and closure.
To exorcise at least these particular demons and if only because the stress is giving me acidity. That in turn is doing a number on my gastronomic indulgences. And I do so so like to eat.

Here's a sparkling description of the visceral feel of anxiety from my freind Shreya:
             And though it's just an infinitesimal blot in the big picture of our lives, while it's happening, it feels like a free-fall into forever.
A 'free-fall into forever'.

Way to nail that feeling of being sucked inside-out: of having anxiety cramp up your muscles and squeeze the air out of your shocked lungs.

Shreya blogged this to qualify her insufficient angst over turning 40 but it applies pretty seamlessly to the many trivial freak-outs that embarass me once I recover from my tailspin and regain perspective.
So here are some utterly senseless yet stomach churning over-reactions from my recent past. The confessions are designed to embarass me even to myself in a half-baked attempt at preventative medicine:

Number inversion:
My 6 year old snuck in an unconsciously mirrored '9', '5' and '3' on a sheet of otherwise perfectly written numbers. For the Nth time.
             My resolve to let him remain pressure-free, account for age'n'stage (this kind of inversion is common in this age group) and not over-think things moved over for a few shorts minutes of panicked doubt over whether his day-dreaming isn't actually an undiagnosed  learning disability. I know it is'nt (and it would'nt be a big deal if it was). Common sense returned fairly quickly. But no more of these silly scares, thank you. There're already enough causes for real fear.

Mis-attribution of the spousal kind:
The husband posted a link to a song full of bitterness towards women on a common freind's FB thread about International Women's day (and don't even get me started on that load of crock).
             My heart hammered out, in accelerating rhythm, that his diatribe-by-proxy was directed solely at me instead of being the lighthearted exchange of meaningless banter that it really was. It took a couple of hours of feeling stung before this sheepish realization dawned (and I've had it more often than I'd like to admit lately): it isn't ALWAYS about me.
I need to hold onto that one. It's not as much a disappointment as it is a liberation...from bearing responsibility for other peoples' emotions. Especially when they did'nt even ask me to.

Over-critical critique
I think I may have over-harshly critiqued the writing of two freinds whom I admire as writers, in my writing  group. Part of the mandate of the group is to work on writing style so it was not completely out of line but perhaps I let myself go a bit too much with these two gals.
              One clammed up, giving me devastatingly guilty pause to consider if I'd broken her spirit when she had articulated and shared her thoughts with such brave conviction and trust. The other fought back articulately and convincingly from the corner I'd backed her into, making me feel like a heel for putting her there when she is so many miles more talented than I'd ever hope to be. The Fighter assured me she bended but didn't break and that my crtique was as constructive as it was harsh. The Quiet One has me still looking for the self-flagellating penance equipment I'd recently retired. She has lately been palling around with me on FB so I'm hopeful for a reprieve there too. I hold her dear.
But again, this sobering and liberating realization: I do not have the power I think I do over others.
I will rarely, if ever, make or break them with my words or thoughts.

Squeamish about romance
An honest discussion with a freind who is in emotional flux, over what he desires in his relationships by way of 'romance' birthed doubts about what 'romance', if any, there was in mine. Even more bone-chilling, the realization that I had given up on it as had hubby (who was also part of said discussion).
             Another squeeze of my heart and the cold chill of sudden certainty that the marriage was dead in the water. Followed by a brief exchange with hubby that helped the sun start to break through. Turns out that though neither of us have any of the popularly defined visions of  'romance' within our sight or memory, we've fair dollops of what makes us happy in our own closely matched definitions. The occasional 'good' conversation, exchanging hidden smiles over the antics of our whimsical progeny, sharing evanescent pleasures like the play of light'n'shade in a photograph and debating the alchemy of our favorite show that so deftly weaves cheesy drama with a rare idealism. On reflection, there have been overtly romantic moments too, though we did'nt waste time savoring the implict romanticism at the time and engaged in the moment instead. The postcard image that comes to mind is the worldess wonder of driving down a swooping, looping road in the Cape Breton hills of Nova Scotia last summer to suddenly come upon a snug little fishing cove, silvery in the sunshine. Or a giggling, stumbling moonlight walk in the forest on a camping trip after downing a half bottle of scotch, me trying to attribute 'the moon was a ghostly galleon in the sky' (while not falling down) to Hawthorne while he remembers it was really Tennyson even as he narrowly misses walking into a towering spruce. What's romance after all, if it isn't bumbling drunkenly around while spouting dubious poetry together and sharing a bottle of Gatorade the next morning for the hangover?

Cathartic rant over.

My position as the champ of over-thinking and senseless-worrying is undefeated and secure.
But I will have some hope, I think, as long as I let these things into the light of the day and free up my over-crowded mind for other, better thoughts.


Oyon-isms (6 yrs):
Upon finding a nasty little scrape on his knee at shower time....
Me: When did you get this?
Oyon: During gym class, I think.
Me: It's kind of deep. Didn't it hurt?
Oyon: It did but I disturbed myself and it felt better.
Me: Huh?
Oyon: you know, I kept playing so my brain would not think about the pain.
Me: I see. I distract my brain too sometimes when i'm in pain. Would you like some ointment on that?
Oyon: That would be fine, thanks.

Mar 12, 2013

Of new moms and knuckle-dusters

I never intended to write a mommy blog but admit that the little ‘Oyon-isms' footer to every post screams that I missed by a mile. So I might as well jump in.  Here's something from my friend PSaw, a raw and honest opinion about what it really meant to be a new mother.
Am I normal? 
The fact of the matter is I hated being pregnant. Not being a morning person to begin with, I detested the fact that an already unpleasant part of my day was made unbearable by that nauseous acidic feeling in the pit of my stomach. Having struggled with my weight all my life, I hated getting even bigger. 
Have you ever wanted to punch those women in the face? … you know the ones who croon over their babies like they are perfect plastic dolls instead of a screaming mess of poop and puke.  And the ones that get that glassy eyed melodramatic look … ‘Oh I miss being pregnant! ….it was just so beautiful!’ 
Let’s set the record straight. It was uncomfortable, awkward and somewhat embarrassing.  One part of me thought that it was a ‘cool science fact’ that I could actually grow a whole human being inside myself and the same scientist in me was weirded out by the fact that I carried around a parasitic human for 8 months.  And let’s agree on one thing - nobody ever felt sexy when they’re the size of a house with the possible exception of Honey Boo-Boo’s mom. Of course, no one wants to **** her anyways.
Am I a normal mom?
So the big day arrived. Four weeks earlier than planned. He arrived with a little bit of a hullabaloo. My mommy wasn’t here. The nursery still had paint fumes in it. The crib and car seat were still in a box. And I had to be cut open to get him out. And then he added insult to injury with a big irritated hungry cry – ‘I am not going to suck on your big engorged boob. Sorry ‘eh mom?’ … but it’s not my type!’ So I took my stapled abdominals, my snubbed boobs, a hospital sack full of soy formula, and my Percocet-fuelled 3-eyed, long-armed zombie companions and came home to my 12-weeks of sanctioned maternity leave.
Have you ever wanted to punch those women in the face? … you know the ones who cry at the thought of leaving their babies for an hour or at the thought of returning to full time employment? Who cry at the thought of leaving their kid with the baby sitter? There were only so many ‘evil’ Sudoku puzzles I could solve before I called my boss and asked if I could come back to work, two weeks earlier than scheduled.  I researched and screened and interviewed a number of in-home baby sitters and day-care providers. And when I finally found the one – I was relieved to leave my son in her care before running to my 9 hours of normal working adult no-puke no-poop discussions. Three years on and not much has changed. I still need to get away and I still need respite. 
I admire, I truly do, women, who like my mom, stayed home and raised me... wasn’t I supposed to pay-it-forward? Am I not a normal mom? 
Am I not normal?

I love PSaw’s honesty and relate to much of her experience. I don't usually (note the qualifier please) share her urge for facial violence when faced with ecstatic new mothers though they did do a number on me in my first few weeks.
Already squirming at not being deluged by a gush of Mother love while grappling with my puling infant, those beaming Madonna’s tended to get my goat. Honestly, I felt little more than mild curiosity and intense anxiety for the new little man-child in our midst. Then I got myself even more confused that I didn’t feel any compunction about my lack of emotional high. Partly it was that my bandwidth was blown by recovering from childbirth and the critical learning curve the results brought. But I suppose I also had just enough faith in my capacity for love to know I'd come through for my ‘lil guy even if I wasn't staying up all night to adoringly watch him sleep in the early days. Well, I actually WAS given those relentless infant feeding cycles, but not from choice and not happily.
I didn’t want to deck the glowing new-Moms because I felt I got them most of the time and saw through them too occasionally. I decided that some of them were truly joyous about the experience and it was just a matter of taste: my inability to coo adoringly over a diaper blowout was probably matched by their inability or appreciate Marmite on toast. Different folks, different strokes. Others, I think, were playing a part unbeknownst to even themselves.
The fact is, a baby sometimes fills a void. Many of us plod along in our pre-set lives chasing degrees, careers, travel, half-hearted hobbies etc. until parenthood comes along to inject a sort of passion we've never felt before. I could be wrong but I think these are the folks who show the zeal of the new convert and make PSaw reach for her knuckle-dusters. I don't think they are posers or mean to condescend to the moms who're less gushy. Some have aspired to mom-hood all their lives and/or have maybe worked extra hard and long to get there. Their emotional highs seem fitting: well earned, deserved and easier to understand. Others see their lactating phase as some sort of biological validation that inspires, amazes and fulfills. I can understand this intellectually, even if I can't feel it emotionally. But these are the beaming Madonna’s who came by their haloes rightfully, in my eyes.
Just as many of us though, had a world outside of momhood and career - pre-baby - that we cherished and cultivated. There were  hobbies, friends, creative pursuits etc. I think these people split apart with a louder tearing sound. A part breaks off into a 'mom' shape but it has ragged edges and does not drift far from the rest of our persona. As our children become a more fixed part of our existence, that we can nurture and enjoy without the role being all consuming, the 'new love' wears off and is replaced by the quieter, stronger kind. I'm sure it's a Darwinian effect that moms are over-hormoned and somewhat obsessed in the early months when babies depend mostly on their mothers for survival. But it's also evolution that modern moms feel less anxiety and think more with the left side of their brain given the support they have. When you don’t have to worry so much about where the mammoth steak for dinner is going to come from or whether the velociraptor might sneak your baby away at night from your doorless cave, your mind has more space for other things. These are the people like PSaw, who love their children but equally love their lives outside of Mom-hood.
And here's my secret and rather incendiary theory about some of the Glowing Mothers amidst us: I think some of their euphoria is a subtle little piece of self-delusion. An unconscious coping mechanism for this overwhelming role of a lifetime. They convince themselves they LOVE their experience even though they do not (at least not all of it), because the alternate explanation scares them. There's little space for contradictory emotions in our judgmental societies, or even for degrees of belief. No one tells an expecting mom that you may not immediately love your child, will probably hate much of the first few taxing months but it will turn out just fine anyway. That would be too crushing and possibly a difficult admission to make for many women who are secretly distraught at their own mixed feelings about new-motherhood.
I think it’s partly due to the 'Supermom' ideal too. We expect to be stimulated by and excel in our careers while we achieve some sort of completion through motherhood. If we're not feeling gushy about our infants or fulfilled by our boobs-on-tap avatar we feel like bad mothers because of all we have absorbed about the 'natural mothering instinct'. On the other hand, if we don’t love rushing back to work (like we thought we would) because we inexplicably left our hearts at home in the crib, we doubt how independent or strong a woman we really are. Same for the stay-at-home-mom vs working-mom debate: you're taking the 'easy way out' in someone's eyes somewhere regardless of which cap you wear.
And what utter crap all this is.
The truth is that we can feel less than head-over-heels with our squirmy little babes and still love them to death when we're better acquainted with them and less physically over-worked. We talk of severe illness as 'trauma' but hesitate to label childbirth as such because of the negative connotations. If you ask me, it is a kind of trauma. One with a very precious outcome but it's overwhelming nonetheless. For most of us I think it's a difficult, difficult transition when we welcome a child into our lives and kicking sand over the grotty, ugly bits does no-one a service. I'm certain that most people feel like PSaw at some point or the other: drawn to the baby and wreathed in inexplicable smiles while feeling put-out at the overwhelming physical strain and mental dullness.
And I think we get confused by this contradiction of emotions.
How can we feel put-out by our little miracles? What does that SAY about us?
So sometimes we unconsciously amplify and glorify the beauty of it all to Just. Get. Through. The. Day. Because in our heads, all this pain, anxiety and tedium has got to be worth something......something worth giving up the job, abandoning sleep and good-health and shutting down a major part of the brain. Since that misty-eyed, redeeming moment of watching him graduate Summa cum Laude in crimson cap-n-gown is kinda far away, we seek and find it it in the more accessible (and realistic) joys. Like smiles and coos, impossibly delicate fingers curled up into tiny fists and those soft, whimpering sleep sounds. Alright, all that really is pretty adorable, regardless of your jaded-ness, but you get my drift. We can be emotionally moved and feel deeply satiated at the sight of our fragile infant even while part of our brain flops around in boredom. But what a confusing cocktail of emotions!
I won't even start on the unfair bias towards the‘Maternal Instinct’ that leaves fathers in the proverbial dust. I think it’s unfair and tragic that the many, many fathers with instincts to rival or beat the mothers’, receive no acknowledgement r respect. My son’s dad was as instrumental in deciphering infant cries and solving feeding dilemmas as he is now in teaching endurance and toughness, which is still the stereotypical realm of Paternal duty. Our baby would calm down as quickly in his dad’s hairy arms and on his hard chest as he would with me. No matter how much we ‘modern’ women like to boast about the equal parenting rhythms we have struck, we seem to pull back from that final acknowledgement that our husbands might have an instinct that is on par with ours even without the parturition credentials.
My point (if there even is one) is that it takes all kinds and every method of parenting is the right one so long as it grows happy, cherished children.
So everyone - take off your halos and put down those knuckle-dusters.
Its all good.
On replying to a question after claiming to not know the answer the first time he was asked:
Me: How come you didn't tell me this when I asked before?
Oyon: Because it just made it's way to my brain
Me: Oh? Where was it before?
Oyon: I'm not really sure. But it wasn't in my brain. It just got there.

Mar 8, 2013

'Slip sliding away'

My car danced to a Paul Simon tune in this morning's snow storm. It started 'slip sliding away' as I took a left turn.

The graceful spin swung me into oncoming traffic in the next lane. Uneventfully. The creeping cars had halted in time and left just enough space for my skid to achieve completion. Since the only thing to do in a skid is ride it out, i was as much a spectator as they. A few seconds worth of Eternity. In the short pause that followed after I'd finally stopped skidding, I looked at the cars frozen still around me. Through the snow filled air, I thought I glimpsed a bobble hatted head peering at me from the nearest car.

From concern, I decided, and gave them a reassuring little wave. Just in case.

Behind me the three MBTA buses, that moments ago had honked in symphony to speed up the left turn that I was gingerly taking, seemed silenced by contrition. They waited patiently as I straightened out and gently guided my wonderfully snow worthy Subaru back into it's rightful lane.

Finally parked at the sparsely populated train station (folks must be taking a snow day off from work, rightfully), I flicked up the windshield wipers in preparation for the additional foot of snow we would receive by the time I headed back home. Then I settled in for my short wait until the train arrived.  The cell phone showed missed calls from my husband. From 90 deg F Kolkata where he was attending to family matters. He had worriedly been planning and orchestrating our snow removal and safety in his absence.

When I returned his call the background noise was cacophonous. The usual honking, hollering and car/bus noises that their Kolkata flat is immersed in. Inside my car, enveloped in that preternatural hush that only thickly falling snow brings, it was surprisingly reassuring to know that we could have such diversity and still keep spinning on our axis.

I reassured him that we had easily dug out of the 4-6 inches that fell overnight (Oyon being worth his weight in gold for the way he cleaned off my car windows!). He reassured me that the 50 degree forecast for the weekend pre-empts any real concern: residuals would melt.

I found I didn't want to tell him about the skid right then. Not the least because the commonplace nature of it made it unremarkable. Also because I didn't want him to worry any more. I wish I could have told him though how calming it felt to be able to handle that skid. How it might have turned out much more unpleasantly if I had not heard his voice from 16 yrs ago advising me to shelf instinct, stay off the brakes and steer into the skid.

I deal with most icy-road missteps in my stride, like most people in this area, and seldom even remember that I've had them by days end. But today felt different.

Maybe it was because Oyon had ended up wailing in the car as we finally set out for school. His boots and gloves had gotten wet and he was freezing. Perhaps it was because my head ached so badly from exposure and remnants of Chicken Pox that I had yelled at him to just deal with it and quit crying. He had wailed even louder then shouted 'But I HAVE to cry. I'm so cold it hurts. This is the worst day ever!' . I snapped out of it just enough to go back in the house to fetch him dry socks and a blanket for the frigid car interior. I also doled out an apology and a hug. Not his fault my head hurt.

I guess I'd been skidding off track since 6 am when I woke up with that achy head. Recovering from the car skid was the easiest of them all. And I felt grateful for the person who hovered protectively in my life, even from thousands of miles away and 16 years ago.

Oyon: Did you watch 'woody woodpecker' when you were little too?
Me: Yes.
Oyon: I thought so. The show looks very, very old.

Mar 6, 2013

A pox on Chicken Pox!

Ever grabbed a bottle of Laxative pills when reaching for the headache meds? No? Me neither. But these little slips will happen. Hopefully with little more consequence than embarassment. Like here - Yash's adventure (over at Y on earth not) as her hubby tried to get the Flu vaccine and....well, read it for yourself. know the drill.

It reminded me of our own latest brush with bewildering medical advice.

Mar 1, 2013

Leading in solitude

Blog surfing is a great way to get arond the world and other peoples' heads.
It brought me across Revathi, who is lately on a quest to Keep calm and finish what you've started. Timely and sound advice, well written. Her quest warrants a post unto itself but she recommended this article in 'The American Scholar'  and it got me thinking.

The article is admittedly a dry read initially. Perhaps because it's really a commencement speech at West Point military academy. It also drones rather relentlessly through the first half about the sorry state of American leadership as of 2009 before winding it's way to an interesting thesis: to be a successful leader (and original thinker), you must be able to spend time alone with your thoughts. That solitude breeds leadership despite all conventional wisdom - which claims that to be a successful professional you need to know how to work with and around people. Arguably those skills cannot grow while you are navel gazing in a remote cabin in the woods.

Not much to argue with in his exacting logic. It's a familiar concept to at least the Indian mind in which the idea of ascetics and sanyasis mining wisdom from their solitude is firmly entrenched through centuries worth of traditions (and dare I say, fables?). It's a novel thought in our current age though, where the best minds are born from academics, research and industry, maintain high profiles and lay claim to their thrones through publishing, lecturing and being 'involved' in every way. Quite the opposite of 'solitary'.

Then I came to an interesting part about the information deluge we are all subject to. While this is not exactly breaking news, it is well articulated. An excerpt on why reading books can enhance original thinking more than cyber-information:

“Thinking for yourself means finding yourself, finding your own reality. Here’s the other problem with Facebook and Twitter and even The New York Times. When you expose yourself to those things, especially in the constant way that people do now—older people as well as younger people—you are continuously bombarding yourself with a stream of other people’s thoughts. You are marinating yourself in the conventional wisdom. In other people’s reality: for others, not for yourself. You are creating a cacophony in which it is impossible to hear your own voice, whether it’s yourself you’re thinking about or anything else.

So why is reading books any better than reading tweets or wall posts? Well, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes, you need to put down your book, if only to think about what you’re reading, what you think about what you’re reading. But a book has two advantages over a tweet. First, the person who wrote it thought about it a lot more carefully. The book is the result of his solitude, his attempt to think for himself.Second, most books are old. This is not a disadvantage: this is precisely what makes them valuable. They stand against the conventional wisdom of today simply because they’re not from today"
Here's my question and confusion about this otherwise convincing piece:  if you skip 'marinating yourself in the conventional wisdom' how do you know that your opinion is well informed and really unique? Blinkered thinking seems more fraught with the perils of missing other point-of-views than generating truly unique thoughts. Even the most concentrated effort at creating original thoughts in solitude cannot possibly account for the fact that the thinking is still done by one individual. One individual with their own biases, pre-dispositions and limited capacity for thought. If you do not listen to 'other peoples' thoughts', doesn't that trap you in an unreal world consisting of only you? How can any of your original  thoughts that originate in that very personal and limited world, retain any applicability for the rest of us?

I'm not denying the very real risk of self-delusion when you internalize the aforementioned 'cacophony' of opinions. I think there is a sound (if rather obvious) point there. I see so many people (self included) slipping into the insidious self-delusion of thinking ourselves unique after having adopting conventional wisdom and convincing ourself through unconscious, spin that it's un-conventional. Often it's only after I've opined confidently (and repeatedly) that I recognize that my paradigm-shifting epiphany is really just a very slight variation of one or more opinons I've absorbed.  Either those opinions have appealed to me and aligned with my inclinations or they turned my opinions on their head with enough conviction to make a zealous convert out of me. I have for instance, known more than one New Yorker who is a self-identified intellectual but channels an identifiable amalgam of opinions and reviews from 'The Village Voice' (an alternative newspaper representing the edgy side of the city) and the NYT. There was no malicious intent or intended hypocrisy: my fondness for some of these folks actually demystified how easily such self-delusion creeps even into an alert and self-aware mind.

Besides, the cynic in me is mumbling that there probably is no truly unique thought in the world. It's a fair guess that in the history of our civilization, every thought has already been thunk by someone. Not knowing of it is not the same as it not existing.

I'm just saying.

So like with everything, I suppose the ideal lies in between the two extremes. Aside: I wanted to name this blog 'Shades of grey' to reflect my fond prescription for equilibrium but that name was already taken. Now I bless my stars (and send out sympathy vibes) that I'm not getting hits from frustrated women looking for badly written sensual thrills. Aside over.

My take-away is that too much reading and getting 'informed' about other opinions can un-moor you just as easily as too little can anchor you to your unreal world of one.

I think I knew this already.
But it's nice to have it articulated by someone with a tad more credibility.
Because after all, if I'm stuck in my solitude with only my own thoughts, how do I know they're not just figments?
Oyon-isms (6):
Before bed time, Wednesday night:
When I grow up I want to invent a machine that lets people walk inside hot lava without melting.
Before bed time, Thursday night:
When I grow up, after I make the Lava Machine, I'm going to build an instrument that listens to what animals say and then tells it in people language. It will be called the 'Listener'.
Minutes after waking, Friday morning:
Mummum, how many days until I grow up?