Just another day in paradise


It was a regular Tuesday evening – get your homework done, did you get a snack, alright get in your swimsuit, if we don’t rush out of the door now we will be LATE! RYAN!!! These are the sentences heard in my house every Tuesday evening in my shrill, high pitch, annoying voice. This particular Tuesday was no exception. I am not sure what came over me but before we headed out I told Ryan jokingly, ‘Go give your sister a kiss!’ Even as I said it, I jangled the car keys in my hand and took steps towards the door knowing the gagging sound that would follow this command. I expected an emphatic “NOOOOO!” What I got was, “Ok, I will!” I was surprised. This display of affection is VERY, VERY…..I mean, truly rare.
Sahana, from her room indulgently cried out, “No need! I don’t need a kiss!” But I saw her brother go in her room anyway! And then…….

A BLOOD CURDLING SCREAM, “MAMA, HE RUBBED DIRTY SOCKS ON MY FACE! I AM GOING TO KILL HIM!”

The brother ran out giggling with the sister in hot pursuit! “I am going to kill you!!! He rubbed his dirty sock on my face! Uggggh! Gross!”

The culprit was caught, thrown on the couch, sat upon and tickled. There was squealing and laughter as well as a valiant effort on my part to separate them. Clock was ticking. We were late. As I watched them wrestle, I had an out of body experience, watching the scene from up above – two of them laughing, wrestling, squealing and me laughing as well as I shouted above the din to stop and get going ‘this very minute’!

The moment did not last long. I hauled the boy out of the house, into the car and sped towards the pool. However the little moment of mirth made a difference to the Tuesday routine. These little moments are the ones worth cherishing. So these little moments find their place in my blogs.

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Pears Soap


As my mother unwrapped a bar of Pears soap and slid it on the soap dish in our common bathroom, we knew winter in Kolkata was official. Those of you who have grown up or lived in India would attest to the fact that winter in India (at least most parts of India) is a season of relief and joy. After the stifling heat of the summer came refreshing monsoons. Then monsoon and constant rain became an irritation. The roads were a mess, waterlogging brought life to a standstill, commuters looked up at the sky with a frown as they tried avoiding the raindrops from their neighbor’s umbrella. Monsoons gave way to hemanta (fall). For us, Bangalis, that was the time to look up at the cerulean sky spotted with cottony clouds and dream of Durga Pujo. After the  pujos were over, there was a let down period of a few weeks till the blessed cold season descended upon us. And the advent of winter, for me, was the fragrance of Pears soap in the bathroom. I think that soap had a decent amount of glycerin in it to moisten the drying skin during winter time or so the company boasted in it’s advertisement. I believe this was a family tradition – this bringing out of the Pears soap. My grandmother heralded winter with Pears and so did my mother and aunts. Why stop a good thing?

I wanted to eat fish today. Not the fillets that you get in the supermarkets here. I wanted fish with its tail, head and eyes intact, just like we have it at home. So after cooking dal and a vegetable dish for family dinner, I braved the cold, jumped in my car and raced to the Indian grocery store to buy me some fish. As I put in dal, spices, paneer and other staples in my cart, I came across a nicely built pyramid of Pears soap. I picked one up and breathed in. It made me smile. The fragrance reminded me of myself as a little girl  demanding the lep (a comforter stuffed with cotton) to be brought out in October (the temperature did not dip down then, only the evenings held the promise of cooler days). Ma and baba teased me for being ‘Sheet kature” (not sure of the exact translation, perhaps cold wimp). It reminded me of Tuhina, the one and only body moisturizing solution that was bought in our house. Do any of you remember Tuhina? Is it even manufactured anymore? Winter in Kolkata meant family outings at the zoo, complete with boiled eggs, nolen gur er sandesh (sweets made with special molasses) and oranges. Winter in Kolkata meant school picnics in the grounds of Victoria Memorial. Winter in Kolkata meant badminton games, fruit cakes, brightly lit Park Street, Christmas. Winters in Kolkata meant Kul er achar. Winters in Kolkata meant Saraswati pujo and yellow sarees. Winters in Kolkata meant Kolkata Bookfair. Winters in Kolkata meant colorful shawls and vying for a spot in the sun. Winters in Kolkata also meant falling in love with the love of my life.

The whiff of Pears at the Indian Grocery store reminded me I loved winter once. I have not felt the soft caress of Kolkata winter for a very long time now. My thin Indian skin can not bear the intense cold that I experience here. I find no joy in bundling up, feeling my face freeze or slip and slide in ice. I still have not learnt to walk on ice or drive on snow. But I have learnt to love parts of winter here too. The silhouette of bare trees stretching up to the sky, waiting patiently to fill up with leaves, is beautiful. Snowfall is beautiful. My husband’s exuberance after a snowball fight with the kids always tugs at my heartstring. The snotty, red faces of my two children as they sip hot chocolate after a particularly cold day are a joy to watch. Sitting on my favorite couch on a winter afternoon while reading a book makes me feel completely content. The warmth that envelopes me as I open the front door and enter my little house reminds me I am lucky. Yes, I have learnt to love some parts of winter here too.

I bought a bar of Pears soap and I used it when I came home. It reminded me of my mother.  Now I am surrounded by fragrant memories of winters left behind. This winter afternoon, all of sudden, became beautiful!

 

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100 Day Saree Respect


I was made aware of this celebration of sarees on a social networking site. Women posted saree clad pictures on Facebook and told a little story or memory associated with that particular saree. I believe the notion was to highlight the elegance of this beautiful ethnic wear and boost this industry. One particular friend of mine wrote beautiful memories with each and every saree she wore. Not only did she look beautiful, but her stories made a fascinating read and her sarees, to me, became much more meaningful. Stories and memories inter-weaved within the threads – what a fabulous concept.

My sarees are well-loved but not much worn. They stay well guarded in a closet in my basement as I live my life in jeans, trousers, sweaters and shirts. Sometimes I harangue my husband to take me out on dates so I can drape one of my lovely sarees. Swim meets and baseball games get in the way. So when I open the closet that house my sarees, I stroke them longingly and make plans……one of these days I will wear this one or that. And then the weather turns frigid. However, the hope remains – next spring, next summer, next fall. In the mean time, I acquire more sarees. They come bearing love – love of my mother and father, my sisters and brothers (cousins), my aunts and uncles from home.

Two of my sarees have a story or memory with my mother that I want to share. I had heard the name of a saree store called Byloom in Kolkata. I had seen photos of sarees bought from Byloom. Their texture, design, color combination seemed different, unique, more to my taste. Two days before I was scheduled to return to United States, my mother and I decided to pay a visit to this saree store and see with our own eyes what the hype was all about. The plan was to simply pay a visit, look at their wares and then turn around and come back home. My suitcases were full, and my purse was light. I had a little bit of Indian money left in cash and I decided to take just that with me. I took out my credit cards along with my debit card and left them at home. If I did not have plastic, I would not be tempted to overspend. Wait, why was I thinking of spending? My suitcase was full, right?

My mother and I are both geographically challenged so after asking at least 3 people for directions we arrived at the store. The last direction was asked right in front of the store, so when the gentleman who pointed to the store right across the street and gave us a strange look we felt slightly embarrassed. We walked in and promptly got lost again. This time we lost ourselves in colors, patterns and texture. The salesladies were amazing at their job, the colors were splendid and rich, the textiles smelled of home and comfort. I, not a fashionista or lover of clothes by any means, was hooked. My mother, an impulsive shopper and an ardent admirer of fashion and clothes, was miserable. I had instructed her not to bring money. We were just going to look, remember?

We had never done better math in our lives!! I bought a saree for my mother. That was it, I had money (cash) for that – parting gift to my mother before I left India. And then the salesladies did their magic, “Didi, look at this color on you!” They draped a pink saree on me. Three of them came over to ooh and aah over it. My mom joined in. Then they found a blue one, a little more expensive. They double ooh aahed over it. My ma joined in again. The oohs and aahs went up exponentially with the value of the sarees – just an observation. I was calculating fast in my head. I had two days left before my flight departed, no one would make blouses for those sarees. I had to buy ready made blouses for them. Groan! More calculations. Finally, when I had hardened my heart against amazing sales pitches, when I had closed my eyes against the splendor of colors, when I had shut my ears to my mother’s berating at making her leave her money at home, I headed to the cashier with my grumbling mother in tow. I told the cashier I bought some stuff but I had X amount of rupees. I was not savvy enough to calculate the sales tax in my head so I may not be able to buy all that was being packed for me. He smiled politely and said they accepted credit cards. “Ummm…I am not carrying my credit card!” I mumbled. My mother, I think, growled.

As the cashier tallied up my purchases, I realized I held my breath. Fortunately, I had enough money to pay for it all with about 15 rupees to spare. Feeling buoyant and happy we sailed out of the store swinging our bags. And we laughed joyfully. The memory is not about having enough money to buy those sarees though. The memory is about getting lost with my mother, hearing sales pitches with her, being admired by her, being scolded too and finally laughing giddily over our joint naughtiness. I am not sure I have rightfully penned the day, the story or the feeling. My mother and I were more than simply a mom and child that day. That day we were co conspirators, we were math whizzes (somewhat), we were rule breakers (rules created by us), we were quick planners, we were fast shoppers, we were fellow gigglers, we were happy bag swingers. We were perhaps more friends that day than parent and child. We were also hiding some tears behind our laughter at the upcoming goodbye. It was our last show down before the curtain of years fell till we were together again.

On her birthday, this memory stands out. Happy birthday, Ma! Here is to many more years of rule breaking, bag swinging, saree conspiring, and of course mindless laughing after being naughty. We Bengalis do not say “I love you’ because it does not need to be said, I know. This Bengali has learned to say it anyway. Moreover, she loves to say it.

I love you, Ma!

Here are the sarees, which have this precious memory!

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Ethnocentric tendencies


I see my 16 year old daughter go through life with head phones plugged in her ears. One in, one out to let half of the world reach her consciousness. The other half is immersed in music. The worst thing I can do to her is take away her head phones – life will lose it’s luster. Even if she is not connected to music, she has one earphone plugged in one ear. I have hung up my boxing gloves and given up the fight. With so many issues to lock heads about, I have to be conscious of what is most meaningful to me and her.

A few days ago as we were driving back from a successful swim meet, I heard her sing along to – Balam pichkari jo tune Mujhe maari…… A Hindi song from a popular Bollywood movie. I do not keep up with cinema at all, so of course I was oblivious to the movie or the song. However, hearing her sing a Hindi song at the top of her lungs made me smile and took me back thirty years. I distinctly remember bringing home the latest Bollywood songs to my mother and she disdainfully shake her head at my taste. The songs were not profound or meaningful or classy, they were simply foot tapping fun. My parents denigrated the music of our times, 80’s and 90’s and eulogized the music they grew up with. I personally loved the oldies as well as ‘our’ music. Despite the mock disdain, I would catch my mother humming a modern ditty or tapping her foot to it while a local pujo pandal played the music at an unacceptable decibel level, repeatedly.

When I asked my daughter about this particular song, she said, “You won’t like it mom! It is a Bollywood song.”

I did not show mock disdain for the modern song though, I wanted her to share her playlist of Hindi songs with me instead. Why would I not want some foot tapping fun, zesty music, and hip shaking rhythm? I have my golden melodies to fall back upon and I want these movers and shakers when I sweat on the tread-mill to keep me moving. We are that lucky generation where we have the joy of it all- the past, the present and the future too.

Lastly, I was happy to see the ethnocentric tendencies of my non Hindi speaking, biracial child. She sought out these songs on her own perhaps to cultivate part of her roots, her part-ethnicity, what she can call her own if she chooses to?

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String bean


No matter what you do, never ever call a 10 year old would-be athlete who is flexing his muscles in a skin tight, two sizes small Under Armor undershirt, looking extremely skinny – a string bean. You will get an uproar of protest and you will be subjected to almost half an hour of persuasive argument that his muscles are not string beans and you will be made to witness him flex his muscles in different (very funny) ways to prove his point. I am warning you, don’t do it.

I did not do it either. Of course, I know better. It is the big sister who did it. On a lovely fall Sunday, our resident would-be athlete was getting ready for his game of baseball. It was the first game, we did not have the team shirt yet, so he was going to go in a stylish black and grey, hand-me-down Under Armor undershirt. He wears that particular one for superstition as well as style. However, it is a couple of sizes small on him. I watched the entire process of trying to put that shirt on with different maneuvers. I tried to intervene when I became alarmed at the prospect of his limbs getting stuck in the tangle of the sleeves of the shirt but I was paid no heed. What do I know? I am just the mother. So I left the scene to pay attention to other chores that needed looking after. In the mean time, he got the shirt on (I really am not sure how) and went in front of the mirror to check his reflection. He must have immensely liked what he saw since he went to his sister’s room to brag. I was told he started doing some ninja moves in front of his sister to show off the muscles and “six packs” (two packs max) that were highlighted by the tightness of the shirt. Ryan is by no means skinny but he is on the slender side. However the shirt had constricted his muscles so tightly that he looked like a straight line. Sahana watched him spring around her room for a while with bemused expression and then said with an indulgent smile, “Dude, you look like a string bean!”

The dude was in the throes of vanity and hence the term string bean did not bode well with his ego.

“I am NOT a string BEAN! Mom, Sahana called me a string bean!”

This was said with chagrin. His self worth was bruised, ego affronted. He ran out of Sahana’s room to do his ninja maneuvers in front of me to repudiate Sahana’s comment.

“Do you see my muscles?” He asked hopefully.

The only words popped in my mind were….you guessed it…string beans. And laughter – bubbling, uncontrollable laughter threatened to frizz out of me at his antics and his skinny arms, flexed hard to show off. I controlled my twitching mouth and oohed and ahhed appropriately to salvage the vanquished pride. I said he was starting to look strong and if he ate right and continued to exercise he will grow big and strong and most importantly, healthy.

Sahana continued to call him string bean but he is used to her teasing so with my support, he dealt with it better by trying some ninja moves on her. Before the situation could escalate, I said, “Oh look at the time. You need to get going. Get your bag and water!”

Baseball saved the day. But Sahana and I had a good laugh behind his back about his skin tight shirt and his stringy bean ness. But don’t tell him that 😀 !

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True sense of maturity.


My 10 year old son’s thoughts always intrigued me since he was old enough to articulate them. I had a tougher time figuring him out than I did my daughter. His thoughts were different than what I expected. I had taken him to a story hour at our local library when he was about 4. The librarian read Mo Willem’s  Don’t let the Pigeon drive the Bus. The pigeon made so many mistakes that it was obvious he should not be allowed to drive. The instructor, at the end of the book asked the children, ‘do you think pigeon should drive the bus?’ There was of course a resounding ‘NO,’ except one tiny voice (my child’s) saying ‘yes!’ The children’s instructor turned to me smiling, ‘Ryan seems to think pigeon should drive!’

I was worried. Does he have trouble in comprehension? Did he not quite understand the story? Was he not paying attention? I asked him as we drove home:
‘Why did you say the pigeon should drive, darling? He was making all those mistakes!’
My four year old’s answer humbled me, ‘Because everybody should get chances!’

I see him trying to justify the reason behind a bad action. What made the man or woman do what s/he did? We talk about the villains in books he reads, movies he watches and I listen to him digging deep to find a cause for the villainy. I think he believes in innate goodness and trying to find a reason for evil gives him some kind of peace. Maybe all children start off this way – believing in the wholesome goodness of all souls around them. And then life teaches them cynicism, skepticism, disbelieve, disrespect. He reads about Nazis and has a passionate dislike for Hitler. Yet he wonders if a lot of human lives would have been saved if Hitler had gained admission to the art school which refused him. What made Hitler do what he did? Why did Jack the Ripper kill the women? What was the reason? What did they themselves go through?

Finding a reason for a hurtful word or action against us can help mitigate our anger and diffuse the burning desire to seek revenge. A human who can attain that state can be truly happy. Most of us struggle to get there. Although in our lucid state we realize that is the ‘right’ course of action, in agitated state, however, reasoning and sometimes maturity evade us. Having said that, while hurting others can never be an option yet justifying their action to stay in a relationship that has gone completely putrid is also unacceptable and leads to extreme unhappiness. One needs to be mindful of the fine line. And here I give an example of Ryan yet again.

In second grade, he got pushed off the lunch bench by a little boy at the behest of another. Ryan hurt his head and had to go to the nurse. I was understandably livid after hearing the incident. My son pacified me by saying it was not really ____’s fault, he did not know his strength, he misunderstood _________’s direction, _____ did not ask ________ to push me. Either he did not want me involved in the situation or he was making excuses for two boys’ bad behavior. That is not maturity or wisdom, that is giving in to bullying. I had to have several conversation with him about understanding the fine line between the two.

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Understanding the reason behind a man’s action is a true sign of maturity. Not hurting back is a true sense of maturity but not standing up against a hurtful action or speaking out against it is not. It is easy to blur the line but as parents we need to be ever vigilant that we keep this fine line clear for our children.

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Please figure this out for me.


On every Mother’s Day, I get a gift of seeds. When Sahana started this tradition, I was immensely touched by the thought behind it. I am a nurturer, nourishing my saplings so they become big, strong trees. Ryan has kept the tradition alive. This year I received pretty flower seeds, chilli pepper seeds ( since I hail from the land of hot peppers) and a tomato plant.

After careful nurturing and waiting and observing for the better part of summer, the pepper plant has beautiful peppers, the flowers are gorgeous and the tomato plant has plump, green tomatoes. We are all very, very excited because we are not a family of green thumbs. We end up killing our green children. This one time we did not and understandably we all smile widely as we walk by our flowers and our produce.

My resident entrepreneur, however, is at his mercenary best.
“Mom, I have decided to give you a family discount. For you, and only you each tomato is going to cost 75 c and each pepper is going to cost a nickel. For others, tomatoes are a dollar and peppers are 20 c.”

“Wait! What?? How did the produce become yours, might I ask?”

“Well, I weeded and I watered them. So I labored and so the tomatoes and peppers are mine. But I will sell them to you at a discounted price!”

“But they were my gifts! You gave them to me! And I paid you for weeding! You were my employee! You can not claim ownership!!!”

A hot debate ensued. He did not understand my logic. He was illogical to begin with. Finally, I became the mom voice and said, “Forget about it. The tomatoes are mine, the peppers are mine. You, my friend, are mine! So deal with it!”

He has not given up yet. The issue of tomatoes and peppers come up often. Nothing has been harvested. I am expecting a blood bath when I actually pick the vegetable. Stay tuned for the epic war.

Never a dull moment.

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The ‘talk’


A few months ago, my nine year old came to and said in an exasperated voice, ‘Can you please do the talk with me?’
My response was a clueless, ‘What?’
‘The talk! Sahana says I can not watch her show with her because I need to have the talk first. Can we please get the talk done so she can let me watch the show with her? She won’t tell me what it is!’
I, somehow, deflected attention from ‘the talk’ to lion whisperer Kevin Richardson or life cycle of a toad or something of that esoteric nature. Deflecting the attention of a nine year old boy was not hard. I simply was not ready and I also wanted his father to talk to him about puberty, changing body first while slowly initiating ‘the talk’. And moreover, I wanted him to read books about it. I made a mental note to look up books. Then I forgot.

This summer Ryan has zeroed in on his career goal. At the ripe old age of 10, he has decided he wants to be an animal behavorial scientist and in preparation for that, he has been watching innumerable animal videos, reading informational books, researching and writing page long essays on them. All this was good till I heard another curious call of ‘Mom can you come here for a minute?’

I wiped my hands on the kitchen towel and followed his voice to discover my son enthralled in a video of kangaroos mating.

‘What is this? Why do they jump on each other like that? I have seen lions do this too on lion videos?’

There was no deflection then. I mentally gnashed my teeth at my ever traveling partner as I took a deep breath and launched into the ‘talk’! There were myriad emotions on the face – curiosity, bewilderment and finally disgust.

‘So do people do this once in hospitals and then babies are born?’

‘No!’ More explanation.

‘So did daddy…’

I cut him off right away saying I will be happy to entertain questions related to the whole process but I will not answer any personal questions.

He gave it a minute and said a disgusted ‘Ewww!’

There were follow up questions of course. And I answered them to the best of my ability. I also reminded him not to discuss this with friends because it is only fair that their parents get to give them books and right information. He agreed. I mentioned to Sean that I have had the conversation with our son. He laughed a ‘phew, thank goodness’ laugh and I hit him on the arms.

However, I emphasized to Ryan if he ever had any questions about this, he can always come to me or DAD! DAD CAN ANSWER HIS QUESTIONS TOO! ( please note the emphasis)

I must say it was not as hard as I thought it would be. I did have a little pang of regret that this somehow signified a loss of innocence for my last baby (which I admit, is silly). But now I have books for him to read and of course Google to research if I can not answer questions that, I am sure, are coming my way. Interestingly enough, when I offered him the book that I picked out from the library, he did not want to read it or look at it. He got lost in Gabriel Finley’s world of ravens and riddle (Gabriel Finley and the raven’s riddle by George Hagen). Oh well, puberty and knowledge can wait. They are going nowhere.

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Her boys and her one little girl.


Sahana has been cleaning little faces, feeding little humans, making their beds, sanding cribs, washing laundry this past month and a half. Apart from all the chores I mentioned she is also offering her services as a human jungle gym to 4 or 5 toddlers; her boys as she calls them.

At the beginning of the year, she decided to spend her summer volunteering for an orphanage in India. She was, of course, thinking of college applications. But she was also thinking of seeing a bit more of the world, outside the insular bubble that she lives in. And she wanted to know her grandparents a bit more – from a different perspective, not as an indulgent granddaughter visiting for a couple of weeks.

So she packed her bags, filled her suitcase with text books with the illusion that she will be studying in her spare time, boarded the plane and went to live with her grandparents. The first few Skype conversations were casual:

“How did it go?”

“Fine. I sanded cribs today. My arms are sore.” (Do imagine the casual teaanagerish monotone as you read the line).

“I sanded more cribs. The kids are cute.”

Gradually as the days went by, the Skype conversations became more animated.

“Mom, the kids are SO CUTE! I held hands of two kids and crossed the road to take them to school. I was sitting there being a jungle gym while 4 little boys climbed all over me!”

The monotone disappeared, replaced by squeaky enthusiasm.

“I truly appreciate washing machines now, I spent the morning doing laundry! But Mom, the kids are so cute. I kiss their fat cheeks every day!”

I got to hear of her four boys who she took care of, played with, fed them, taught them and hugged them. I heard about how naughty one was, how quiet the other and smart yet another. One day the naughty one bit the other little dude and Sahana had to discipline him. He cried then, and had to be consoled. She was first called Aunty and then she got ‘demoted’ (or promoted, perhaps) to didi (big sister) as slowly she became a playmate from a care giver. One kissed her on her cheeks and her forehead. Another said he loved her. She talked about a baby girl, abandoned at birth, who, when picked up, curled her little body around the care giver and gratefully sucked any shoulder she got. Sahana held her as much as she could, knowing full well, she may never see her again. She got reassurance from the sisters and caregivers, almost all the children got adopted.

Sahana and another volunteer from Spain discussed the relative good condition of the orphanage compared to what they had expected. The facility was clean, the children were well fed, regularly checked by doctors and even loved by the care givers.

Now there is just one week left for her to say goodbye to her boys and the baby girl. She realizes she will never forget them while they will most certainly not remember her. She said, “I did not realize before I came what a life changing experience really means. I thought I would just go and hang out with some kids. But after coming here, spending time with my boys, taking care of them every day, I know my life has changed in some ways. I will most likely not feel about this as intensely as I do now come January. I will get busy again with school work, SATs, college applications. However, I know for sure during my most busy time, I can reflect back on this month and a half to take me away from MY life at that particular moment and give me a perspective of the fact that I am part of a bigger world.”

I believe this is what I wanted her to get out of this endeavor. A perspective that she is part of a bigger world. The life she leads now is simply preparatory to launch her into a bigger system where she will learn, work, live, contribute, accept and hopefully, find fulfillment.

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Alienated or standing out?


I was volunteered to sale books at my daughter’s high school on my birthday afternoon. She heard the word books and she volunteered her mother. I love how she makes that instant association. Later, she realized it was my birthday and meekly asked, “Oh, it is your birthday? Will you do it?”

I, of course, did it. What better way to spend a couple of hours on my special day than to sell gently read books to book-loving teenagers to raise money for a good cause. I was in. I was also lured by the prospect of my high schooler sitting next to me during her lunch break. She said she will sell books with me while she was at lunch.

As I sat there among milling teens I observed a microcosm of the world we live in. It is all in there – the groups, the sub-groups, the layers, the sub layers. The popular teens – confident, dressy, flying hair, The gamers with the certain look and hair, the athletes, the scholarly ones colloquially known as nerds. The groups were different in demeanor, looks, attitude, confidence but they were similar in one aspect – the device they held in their hands, their smart phones. It was clear that the different groups sported a certain look and that look was one of uniformity within the group. I chuckled silently at the thought that these same teens who try to break out from the norm try their best to fit in and belong within their own peer group.

The high school has implemented the BYOD (Bring your own device) rule this year because they felt that social networking is and will be an integral part of the times and world that these young people will inherit. The objective of the school system, by allowing device in the school, was to teach the young adults responsible usage of social networking. I will not get into the debate of whether the experiment is successful or not. As I see it, it is a way of the education system to save face and tell the children, ‘Fine, bring your device to school, because we know you are sneaking it in anyway.’ The other benefit, according to the principal, was the children can use their own device to pull up resources during instruction time. And the ones who don’t have their own device (the tiny minority) will have access to the class computers.

The lunch break was an interesting time to observe the teens with their mobile phones. Most of them walked while their eyes were on the phones, different expressions played on their faces – beatific smiles, frowns, nonchalance, excitement and so forth as their fingers browsed internet/Facebook/ tumblr/snapchat. They walked with their friends but did not interact with them directly, like we used to. There were, however, interactions! Their laughter and camaraderie revolved around jokes/messages that they found on the phones and shared with their real life friends. Although it was odd to see them connected to their devices while their friends of flesh and blood sat right next to them, I did observe solidarity and enjoyment. It seemed odd to me only because I have experienced the laughs, angers, sentiments and direct communications with my friends before this wired age but these children have not. But these children have sustained their friendships, built and broken them, in this way. Whether the relationships they make now in this unique way will withstand the test of time, only time will tell. I recently read a beautiful post written by a friend lamenting the loss of direct communication. I lament it too and I feel our children are missing out. But then again, our children have hardly experienced or nurtured many friendships in our way, how can they miss what they never experienced?

There were some loners too. And there I saw the advantage of cell phones. If you are eating your lunch alone, you don’t seem conspicuous any more if you have your phone in front of you. You can blend in just fine if you hypnotically look at the screen held in your hand like everybody else. You don’t have to hide your head and find a corner to sit so no one will notice your loneliness.

My daughter has an antiquated device at home, but I was not convinced enough to send that device to school with her. I said she could use the school computers to access resources. She has done fine without her iPod in school. When I mentioned my observations to her she looked at me with ‘now you understand how alienated I feel because I don’t have a device at school’ expression. She said it too. I said, “How about you looking at it in a different way? Instead of feeling alienated, how about this idea – you are standing out?” She nodded her head disparagingly, “You don’t understand Mom. It does not work that way.”

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