The Namesake


Recently we discussed Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake in our book club. For some of the participants, the characters were not quite real. They felt good that they read the book but the characters were not authentic enough. For those who are not familiar with the book, here is a brief synopsis. The story explores the lives of a young couple, recently married, who come to the United States in the 1960’s from Kolkata. The husband is a researcher in a university in New England and the young bride accompanies him to build a life together. The marriage was arranged by their parents so they get to know each other, and fall in love in a completely new country, far away from parents and relatives. They make this country their home, raise their two children here, develop friendships yet suffer from a sense of displacement. They cherish the opportunity that America gives them, yet they pine for the loved ones they left behind. The later part of the story follows the life of their oldest child – a boy, who they name Gogol after Nikolai Gogol. You have to read the book to find out the reason for this unusual name. As Gogol grows up, he has issues with his name so he changes it to Nikhil in college not realizing the sentimental reason behind this name. The book talks about Gogol’s self realization as first generation American and the dichotomy of balancing his roots and his birthplace.

Gogol’s life interested me somewhat since I have two biracial children and one of them is trying to figure out where she belongs. But I completely and utterly related to Ashima, the young bride who came to bitter cold New England right after her marriage. Her desperate attempt to understand a new country and her efforts to replicate the experiences of home, here. The book has a description of Ashima trying to make jhal muri (a very delectable roadside snack in Kolkata) with puffed rice and Planter’s nuts but something is missing. Something is always missing when I make the traditional Musur dal, bati chocchori, alu kopi – a very simple Bengali meal, in this country. Is it the oil? Is it the taste of the vegetable? I am still not sure. When I fry the spices in hot oil, the aroma reminds me of home but not quite, not quite. Something is missing.

The sense of displacement grows faint with each passing year as I deepen my roots in the soil of this country. I understand it more, I start to feel like, yes I belong. I nurture sustaining friendships that make me feel loved but what I find missing is the shared history. I long for those who will share the memory when “Abhi na jao chodke ke dil abhi bhara nahi” plays in Pandora. It is not simply a song. It encompasses a part of my life. It is the memory of my dad crooning it as he tied his shoe laces when he got ready for work. It is the memory of loudspeakers during Durga pujo. It is the memory of coming of age and stealing glances at the boy I liked. It is the memory of the lobby of our university. It is the memory of people I sang this song with, it is the emotions that evoked in all of us as we sang it together.

It is the immigrant experience, never belonging fully and belonging to more than one.

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Monday blues


Before I write more, let me say I am not overweight, my BMI is within the normal range for my height and I feel great. Having said that, I weigh the most I have ever weighed in my life. Everytime I see a photo of myself, I think in my head, “Ok, that’s it. I am giving up sugar. From next Monday. ”

I was a skinny child, truly skin and bones. I was a skinny young adult, then a skinny young woman. My husband lovingly called me ‘slender’. He wrote love poems, describing me as ‘lissom’. Nope, I was skinny and not at all graceful. I had the confidence that skinny people have, that no matter what, I will never gain weight. Well, WRONG! Don’t believe it. Metabolism does slow down with age, and skinny body gets lost in small rolls of fat.

Ideally,I would like to lose 6 pounds. That is not a lot and I keep telling myself, I can do it. Easy! All I have to do is give up sugar. Reduce carbohydrate. Spend little longer on the machines at the gym. I will get strong. I will do it all – from next Monday. Mondays, for me, have become the day of failed resolution and eternal hope. In the middle of the week, I pop in that one last piece of chocolate thinking, “Monday! I will not touch sugar from Monday.” Or, “I will surely go to gym from next Monday on.” And when Monday comes, well….

Sometimes, I do start things – good, disciplined things, on Mondays. Like eating more salads and lean meat, cutting out dessert and working out at the gym. I stay with it for a couple of weeks. The weighing machine starts being my friend again. As soon as I see I have dropped a couple of pounds, I get cocky and munch on M & M’s again. I pop in a dessert or two and my body says, “Woman, you will pay for it.” And I do. The whole cycle starts again.

Mondays have become my “New years”. A new day, new possibilities, new me. As Monday rolls on to Tuesday, Wednesday I roll on to my undisciplined self and as I do so, I make the resolution, “No more. From next Monday, I will……”

I will turn over a new leaf. I will! On Monday…

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And a love story..


My parents hardly ever agree on anything. They are two very different people with vastly different outlook on issues in life. However, they vociferously agree that within 2 hours of Sahana’s birth they saw her lift her head up. I have tried, over the course of eighteen years, to reason with them, “Newborns can not raise their heads. You must have been mistaken somehow in your excitement of seeing your first grandchild!” At that point, one of them seek approbation from the other:
“Tulechilo. Dekhechi. Bolo? Matha tulechilo na?”
(Yes, she lifted her head. We saw. Tell her did she not lift her head?)
The partner supports this observation. When it comes to the super ability of their grandchildren, they stand united. No amount of arguing, teasing, laughing can move the solid conviction that their grandchildren are extra-ordinary, unique, special, born to serve a greater purpose, brilliant, beautiful……

Eighteen years ago, when I was working hard to bring my first child to earth, I had my husband in the room holding my hand, coaching me to breathe in New Delhi, India. And my parents were pacing nervously near the delivery room, their ears perking up at any sound, any swish of the door. Finally when Sahana was born, she was cleaned and swaddled and I was taken care of, I saw my mother flash me a victory sign and my father crying tears of joy as they wheeled me away from the delivery room to private room. And since that day a love story began. Story of little Sahana and didiya, dadai.

Baby Sahana spent a lot of time in the arms of her grandmother, while grandfather sat nearby spending hours adoring her various facial expressions or simply lying next to her as she slept on their bed. When she got a little older, didiya told her stories, plenty of stories. Stories of Mahabharat, Ramayan, Krishna, Thakurma r jhuli. Dadai introduced her to animals, plenty of animals. When we visited Kolkata, dadai held her little hand and took her out to meet the numerous stray dogs and stray cats in our neighborhood, that he took care of. They taught her to be kind to creatures, big and small. They bought her toys, books, anything she wanted and spoiled her rotten but they never interfered when I felt the need to discipline her when she misbehaved. For that, I am grateful.  After our move to United States, the physical distance multiplied but the bond between this little girl and her grandparents remained as strong as ever. The yearning increased and when the yearly rendezvous happened between the two, the love was palpable. Ten year old Sahana  welcomed them at the airport with tight hugs, brought them home and said to didiya, “Golpo bolo.” (tell me a story).

Teenage Sahana confided in her grandmother her teenage angst. Story teller didiya became her confidante and dadai became someone to debate with. Dadai would say something outrageous and know-it-all grand daughter would try her best to prove him wrong. Dadai, often egged her on to get a raise out of her.

When Sahana was fifteen, she went to Kolkata alone for six weeks and stayed with her grand parents. The three of them talked, visited family, ate delicious food, went to the mall and movies and when all the talk was done, they just sat with each other, hooked electronically to their respective devices. For her grandparents, her presence was enough. For her, being with them in the same room in companionable silence was gratifying.

She is off to college now and sometimes she feels the urge to leave everything and go back to Kolkata, to didiya and dadai. She skypes with them sometimes, planning the best time to visit before she launches into her life as a young adult.

Little girls don’t stay little for long. They grow up, they change. The bond of story telling, animal loving, hand feeding, cuddling remains  strong though. No matter what she does, her grand parents think the world of her still. In their eyes, she is extra-ordinary, unique, special, born to serve a greater purpose, brilliant, beautiful…… She is that special one who lifted her head within few hours of being born – an insurmountable feat. No one can convince them otherwise. Nobody tries 🙂 !

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Infallible falls


Ryan hero worships his father. He always has since he was a baby. Seeing dad’s face brought about a goofy grin when he learned to recognize faces. As he got older, he became Sean’s shadow. Sean would work around the yard with a tiny human following him every step of the way. When Ryan started playing sports, Sean helped him by throwing the ball or shooting hoops or correcting his strokes. They would compete against each other in the pool or shooting baskets or scoring goals and inevitably Sean won. That was the norm.

Well the norm broke a few days ago in the swimming pool. At the ripe old age of 12, Ryan beat his dad in a 100 yard IM in the pool. That night at the dinner table, Sean mentioned to me with quiet pride that Ryan actually beat him in swimming. I looked at my son excitedly, “Wow! You finally beat dad! That is fantastic!

Ryan said, with an small smile, “I did. But it did not feel good. It just didn’t feel right, you know?”

“Why? I think that is fantastic! You should be proud!”

“No! He raced after a hard work out. He did a 400 IM, then a 200 IM and then he raced. So he was tired. And he killed me in the breast stroke.”

He was giving excuses for his father, I realized. In his heart of heart, he does not want his hero, his father to be defeated, that too, by him. In his eyes, dad is still infallible. He is not ready to accept glory over his father.

I looked at Sean who sat there smiling quietly at his son. Perhaps he was wondering when does the harsh truth dawn on your child? The truth about one’s parents not being infallible.

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Resurrection


I have written before, I find faith beautiful. I find it very peaceful to see a community coming together and performing a ritual that is meaningful to them. Today, I accompanied my husband and son to an Easter service at their church. As we walked in, we were greeted with joyful music and different shades of pastel. Women wore Easter dresses with flowery prints, many men were in button down shirts. Children and babies were well dressed in ties and dresses, complete with bonnets, little white sweaters. There were toys, board books, pacifiers, grand moms, grand dads, adoring aunts, uncles, cousins galore. There were extended families picking up children, holding family babies, taking them to bathrooms. A grand mom in front of me was having the time of her life picking up toys that her toddler grand daughter dropped, wiping down drops of milk that spilled from yet another grand kid’s sippy cup. The priest gave the homily but I did not listen. I was focused on the human interactions around me. The extended family sitting next to us were clearly thrilled to be together. A pregnant woman let her hand rest lightly on her husband’s back. A brother (I assumed) rubbed another brother’s shoulder as they shared a joke. There were three babies that were kissed and adored and passed around. Next to me sat a young family from some country in Africa. A handsome young dad, a very pregnant mother in traditional outfit, resplendent in her pregnancy and a baby about 18 months. I spent a lot of the homily smiling at the young family, at their joy of being together and getting ready to welcome a new life.

At one point, I put my face in my hands and took some time to reflect. Why did I feel the Easter service was more joyous than a Christmas service? Is being reborn more joyful than being born? Does the idea of resurrection give people hope that death is not the end?

I don’t know the answer. But I felt joy. I felt hopeful. I felt happy. I wanted to write again.

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The first day at Yosemite


We got an early start from the hotel. The driving distance from Sacramento to Yosemite National park is close to 3 hours and I slept at least half of that time. I sometimes feel guilty falling asleep on the passenger seat as Sean drives but not guilty enough to keep myself awake. When I woke up and looked around, the scenery around me had changed. All around me were lush green and gentle hills. And in the distance, shimmering in icy blue were peaks of Sierra Nevada. While my family got excited and chirpy that the destination was near, I got silent. My mind was cluttered with concerns over health of my loved ones, deadlines and schedules but I had decided to put all my worries and stress in the farthest corner of my mind as I submerged myself in the joys of being with those I love the most within the splendor of natural beauty. I hoped to soak myself in the beauty around me and hopefully, emerge rejuvenated, restored. As I watched in silence, Merced river flew by one side of the road with first, a gentle murmur and then a roar. As we came close to the park, the water raged next to us while the hills rose on the other side with occasional signs warning travelers of falling rocks. Slowly, everyone in the car fell silent as we took in the verdant countryside and powerful river. What else lay in store for us? Soon enough we spotted our first waterfall and although during the course of 3 days in the park we will see plenty of waterfalls, they never lost their charm for us. Each time we saw one we would stop each other and exclaim, “Look, there is a waterfall!” And we would pause or retrace our steps to catch a glimpse.

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The line to enter the National park was long. Ryan got impatient and got out of the car to walk along the parapet next to us. We crawled towards the entryway to get our 7 day pass and enter paradise. Slowly the line of cars moved and we crossed the threshold.

The first stop was Yosemite Valley Visitor Center. On the way to it, we saw several cars parked on the side of the road and its occupants out on the road with their cameras held high, clicking away the magnificent Yosemite falls. We saw it while we drove on and Ryan urged Sean to ‘have fun but not too much fun and keep his eyes on the road ahead.’

We parked and walked to take in the incredibly beautiful and powerful Yosemite Falls before walking over to the Visitor Center.

The sheer force of nature amazed us and also made us aware of our insignificance in the grand scheme of things.IMG_7115

My chat with the ranger at the visitor center was very productive and rewarding. He said all the trails are open, however the folks who try to summit Half Dome come prepared with lots of snow gear and ice picks since the trail up there still has considerable, knee deep snow. I looked at my over achiever husband and said, “So, NO!” The ranger looked at me and said, “We can not say a forceful NO like that to hikers but yes, if I could I would say the same with the same emphasis!”

Now that the prospect of losing my husband to Half Dome was out, we looked at different trails for the following day. But we decided to climb the Yosemite falls to see how far we could go up and discover the view from up top. So we retraced our steps back to the falls and went in search of the trail head. With a deep breath and deeper resolution we started the trail with our young Ryan leading the way. The rangers urge the hikers not to stray from the trail so as not to trample the local flora that grow in abundance in the park. Within a few minutes, I was completely out of breath. I urged the family to move on while I panted. I said I will catch up but Sean just hung out with me, pretending to take in the view. No matter how many times I said I did not want to hold him back, I will be up soon, he stayed, just looking out without saying a word. He was also our mule carrying water, coats and other climbing paraphernalia. Sahana had the camera, Ryan had another water carrier and I carried my own self. Once I got into a rhythm, the steep climb became somewhat easier and I could climb at a steady pace. Fortunately, there were enough instances where we all stopped in wide eyed wonder at the visual feast ahead of us. As we got closer to the top of the falls, the panoramic view of the Yosemite valley and the gushing waterfall provided an incredible view. What an experience!IMG_7206

Midway through the climb, Half Dome exposed itself to us against the back drop of bright azure sky. The vast expanse of nature around us was breathtaking and incredulous.

The Yosemite Falls is North America’s tallest waterfall, which rises 2,425 feet (739 m) above the Valley floor. National Park Services website says:

If you make the one-mile, 1,000 foot climb (via dozens of switchbacks) to Columbia Rock, you will be rewarded with spectacular views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and Sentinel Rock. From there, it is worth the time and energy to hike another 0.5 miles (0.8 km) (some of which is actually downhill!) to get a stunning view of Upper Yosemite Fall. Depending on the season, you may even feel the mist from the fall, which may be welcome respite after the tough climb.

And that is exactly what we did. When we climbed up to view the Upper Yosemite Fall we met with some hikers who were on their way down. We still had some fuel in our tank and the desire to see the view from the absolute top so we asked the hikers how the trail was. They all said there was considerable ice. A couple of young hikers had turned around because they did not want to tackle the ice. That put a damper to our spirits. We were not sure we wanted to navigate steep, icy terrains in the fading light of the evening. So the consensus was to turn around.

We reached our car when the sun was almost down. As we drove back to get to our hotel in Mariposa (a 45 minute drive) from the park we got to glimpse yet another hue of the green mountains in the dying light of the sun. It was truly mesmerizing. Merced river, swollen and raging, guided us back as we drove by it.

By the time we reached Mariposa and decided to stop for dinner, Sahana was feeling unwell. She opted out from eating anything while we stopped at a Subway to pick up sandwiches, checked into our hotel, cleaned up and hit the hay. The next day was going to be a full day of hiking so we needed the rest. My unused muscles were reminding me painfully that I was extremely out of shape but my rejuvenated mind told me I was up for the challenge. The following day we planned to hike up the Vernal Falls and then further up – Nevada Falls. Now for some sleep…..

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Yosemite: Let’s go


The week before our departure to Sacramento, I was very mindful of my cuticle. You probably clicked on this blog to read about the wonders of Yosemite and you are, most likely, puzzled a bit about my mention of cuticles as I begin my travel blog. Yes, I would be puzzled too. If you have read my blog on our Mexico trip, you would know. I bit my cuticle right before our trip and I spent most of our vacation in considerable pain, till Sean lanced my hugely swollen, infected finger in a dark bathroom in a little hotel in Playa Del Carmen. So when I felt that annoying piece of skin irritating me to no end, I reached for the nail clipper.

We first decided to go to Tanzania for our spring break, then it was Peru and finally Yosemite. Neither Sean (the world traveler) nor I had seen the splendors of Yosemite but we had heard about it from those who had visited the National Park. They all proclaimed Yosemite ranks high in terms of natural beauty, grandeur and the sheer force of nature. So Yosemite it was. The time leading up to the trip was as usual – hectic. Sean traveled far and wide, Sahana stayed lost in her euphoria in getting into college and making new friends virtually, Ryan juggled grades, baseball, music and little bit of swimming while I tried to balance full-time work and home. I checked out a few books on Yosemite but did not touch them. We had 8 hours on the plane, we decided to make good use of the time and plan our activities then while we flew over clouds on our way to see glorious mountains and gushing waterfalls.

The flight  was uneventful except for the fact that we did not find seats next to each other because we were late in checking in. Ryan sat next to two strangers who were very kind to him, offered him chocolates and window seat. The kind folks also asked me if I were his sister when I went to check on him. Wait, it gets better! When I said I was his mother, they laughed and said he had told them he had a seventeen year old sister so they assumed I was the sister. I thanked them for their kindness and beamed all the way to my seat next to Sean and relayed the story. He probably rolled his eyes, I don’t know. He was finally reading the book on Yosemite and making ambitious plans of tackling the celebrated Half Dome and for those of you wondering what is the big deal, why am I being snarky about it, here is some information from trusted source – Wikipedia.

Half Dome is a granite dome at the eastern end of Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park, California. It is a well-known rock formation in the park, named for its distinct shape. One side is a sheer face while the other three sides are smooth and round, making it appear like a dome cut in half. The granite crest rises more than 4,737 ft (1,444 m) above the valley floor.

My husband likes challenges and urges the family to do something daring.  Thankfully, he knows me well and when I said I am NOT even thinking of setting my foot on that Half Dome, he knew not to push. I wanted to see Half Dome and I was willing to oooh aah over it, but from far! While I read The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman on the flight, Sean mapped out some trails that he thought will be fun and somewhat challenging for us all. I kept reminding him, without looking away from my book, to keep my physical abilities in mind and he kept reassuring me, without looking away from his book that I will be fine. I am stronger than I think I am. Cliches like that.

We landed in Sacramento quite late in the evening, went to get our rental car and drove towards our hotel. The road was dark, it was between large expanses of fields and we were somewhat disoriented. After we checked in to the hotel, the three of us, myself and my two children, discovered we were ravenous and needed food. We got back in our car and ended up in a McDonald half a block away. Sad but true, McDonald’s was our first food in the West Coast. It could only get better.  The food was the same as any other McDonald but you must believe me when I say, the water was delicious. Yes, the water! So fresh and tasty! All I remember from that meal is the taste of water. Sean refused to eat food from McDonald so he went to bed hungry. The plan was to wake up, eat breakfast and then hit the road to our next destination – Yosemite National Park.  Stay with me!

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My happy place


I woke up the next morning, sat up on my bed and saw the ocean peeking in through my bedroom window. After almost three weeks, I still remember the overwhelming feeling of contentment that I experienced at that moment. I often feel extremely blessed in what I have in my life. That was one such moment. There would be many moments during the course of our stay on that island where I felt an inexplicable gratitude towards the universe for allowing me to witness such beauty. I felt most spiritual, most connected with the universe in my solitary moments while I sat alone on a rocky beach with no human in sight. Just me, the vast body of water in front of me and scraggly yet majestic rocks that rose above the low tide.

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We quickly settled into a routine on the island. I generally went for long, solitary walks traversing the entire length of the island after a leisurely cup of coffee in front of the water. On those walks, I saw the island creatures – colorful garter snakes, deer, wild turkeys, a ferret like creature who lived near our house. Those walks were also times when I introspected about this life that I was leading, where I was at present in this journey and where I was headed. I spent time with myself, which is a rare thing to do in my daily life. I am a mother who juggles too many balls to ensure the ones dependent on me have a smooth life. I don’t have much or any time for myself. This island break gave me a week to spend with me, the person, not me the mother, wife, worker.

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If asked what was most memorable time in that island I will say it was the thirty minutes that I spent by myself sitting on a secluded rocky beach with the vast expanse of sky over me and inky blue water crashing against the rocks. Little sail boats gliding gently by, the regular swish of water against rocks, perhaps the shrill cry of a gull once in a while and the excitement of an extended cormorant family complete with babies, moms, dads, uncles, aunts, grand moms, granddads cavorting on their rock. Many thoughts crossed my mind, solitary thoughts, personal thoughts, peaceful thoughts, reassuring thoughts that beauty like what I was witnessing abounds our planet, despite man made divisiveness and destruction and the fact I was lucky enough to witness just a tiny part of it.

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The second most memorable time I spent on that island was with my girl. We walked over to the secluded rocky beach of the island and then hopped on the scraggly rocks to see where it would take us. Our path was difficult hence the adventure was thrilling. We strategized, mapped out, warned each other of wobbly ones and slippery ones, squealed when the cold water lapped up to our toes and scrambled higher. We hugged the coast and made our way around the island boosted by our strength and ability to haul ourselves up. I apologized to home owners whose private beaches we trespassed, they cheered us on, while Sahana apologized to each and every spider in our path since we were breaking some spider webs. We made it to the tipping cove, scurried through tall grass fearing ticks and eventually took the boring path home. But we were conquerors of the unknown and we bragged about our conquest till nobody cared any more.

Ryan disowned his own family and hung out with his ten other cousins, eating, roaming, diving down the dock at the wake of the ferry and working at the only tiny pizza store of the island for candy as payment. The boys judiciously watched the clock between playing baseball, tennis and hide and go seek. As soon as it was the time for the ferry they left everything they were doing to go to their jobs of unloading supplies for the store from the ferry. The vacation, for an eleven year old was idyllic and most importantly, free – something that children in cities and suburbs have forgotten.

Remember the kayaks, Sasha and Hexel? Well, they were put to good use as my husband took them out with his brother, his son or his daughter to explore the nearby islands. Sometimes they were gone for three hours or more.

This is what we all needed. Time. Time to connect with each other and also time to disconnect and seek solitude. I believe we were immensely successful. We left the island almost two months ago, yet today, on this dreary, rainy, gloomy day, the island’s memories are a beacon to me. I can go back in my mind to this happy place and I am not gloomy anymore.

 

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Jaguar mom?


I am not a tiger mom like Amy Chua but I can certainly be classified as a jaguar mom. I thought of using hyena mom or jackal mom but jaguar sounds better. I hold my children to high expectations and I push them to do the best they can. I know what they are capable of and I don’t accept anything less. There is a margin for mistakes, I know everyone makes them and they are not a bad thing at all as long as we learn from them. I let them know that I expect A’s in their work, tolerate B’s but question C’s. If the C is due to a concept they did not understand, I can work with them till they ‘get’ it, but if the C is result of sloppy, careless work, there are lost privileges. So, yes, I am a jaguar mother.

I have made Sahana redo her projects several times if she did not do her best work. She learned quickly to do her best the first time. Ryan has recently started working on projects that I pay more attention to. Recently, I made him redo a science project he was working on. First the work was untidy, second time the spellings were not reviewed. It was late at night and we both were at the kitchen table. He finally finished it, I was satisfied and we went to bed.

The next day, Sahana and I conspired. I told Sahana to give him a friendly advice that this mom is mean. She says from experience when she advises him to do his work neatly and well the first time. Mommy will make him redo the work till she is satisfied. The following evening that is what she did. As I checked Ryan’s homework, she called him aside and said, “Ry, mom is really mean when it comes to school work. You will have to do and redo your work if you don’t do it well the first time. Trust me, I have had to do it several times.

Later she told me his response to that. He said, “Sahana, mom is not really mean. She is just trying to make us better and make sure we do our best!”

Ohhhhhh!!!!

A few days later, an ecstatic boy came back home. He got full marks on the project. And his project has been chosen to be showcased in Evening of Excellence in school.

“MOM!!! Thank you for making me redo the project several times!! I got the best grade and my teacher kept my work to show it on Evening of Excellence!”

“How does it feel now, buddy?” I asked him.

“Top of the world!” he said.

“Remember this feeling, darling! If you give your best shot, most of the times you will experience this feeling of being at the top. If you don’t despite your best efforts, you will always have the consolation that you tried your best and that is the best you can do!” I said to him.

Do I truly care if they get A’s every time? I was raised with such expectations and to some extent I do. But what I care about most is the effort. Making that effort to be the best that can be. I am ready to be the jaguar mom, cheeta mom, feral cat mom so they learn that lesson early in life. Tiger mom, I leave to Amy Chua.

Lastly, when I asked my husband if he thought I was a jaguar mom, he said with a twinkle in his eye, “I don’t care if you are a jaguar mom, tiger mom, leopard mom. As long as you are not a cougar mom!”

Yes, never a dull moment!

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The First day on the island


I have said before that the way to Ryan’s heart is through his stomach. He woke up on Saturday morning at the hotel, completely ravenous. Sahana and I were still in bed and not ready for breakfast so he niggled and whined that he be allowed to go have the free breakfast that the hotel offered by himself. We said yes, he left and we forgot about him while we watched a little tv, packed up to check out and got ready ourselves for breakfast. After quite a while later, we heard frantic knock on our door. We opened it to see a red faced and evidently relieved Ryan standing outside with a silly grin on his face.

“Finally I found you guys. I was lost!!” He exclaimed.

In his excitement to get food he did not check our room number when he went for breakfast. After a satisfying breakfast of pancakes and eggs, when he tried to make his way back to our room, he realized he did not know the number. So he knocked on a few doors on the side where our room was. He confronted some angry French Canadian boarders. Finally after the third failed attempt at finding his family, he went to the reception desk and admitted he was lost. The ladies were supposedly very nice, they commiserated with him and despite the privacy policy, gave him his parents’ room number because he was little and cute. He declared he was never letting us out of his sight for the rest of the vacation (he did not keep his promise since we only saw him when he needed food and a place to sleep on the island).

We packed up our bags and checked out of the hotel to head towards Casco Bay Ferry in Portland. Since I am extremely intelligent and planned, I suggested to my partner that we drive to the ferry and figure out first how we transport our junk to the island before we shop for groceries for seven days. That plan seemed acceptable to all so that is what we did. While I guarded the car, Sean went to make the necessary inquiries. It turned out we were unduly worried. The wonderful and efficient staff of the ferry sent all our junk on the freight and other regulars to islands showed us how we can buy groceries, put them in crates provided by the freight workers and leave them with the staff. They did all the heavy lifting while we enjoyed the gorgeous scenery on our way to the island with only our handbags full of tank tops and shorts. After bidding goodbye to Sasha, Hexel (our kayaks, remember?), our unnamed bikes, tennis rackets and some other inconsequential bags, we went to the local Whole Foods to get groceries. Grocery shopping, for me, is never fun and this wasn’t either but it got done with two children running to get things that they wanted and Sean and I either acquiescing or saying sternly, “Put that back right away!” We drove the grocery laden minivan back to the dock, procured a cart, sent the groceries on their way with a prayer that the eggs don’t crack and ventured into the difficult task of finding a parking. The most convenient parking, right next to the dock was full. Sean got off the car to ask the attendant how quick the turnover was. Should we wait or should we seek a different parking garage. He was gone for a while. When I was starting to get slightly frustrated I saw him coming back with a huge grin and a thumbs up sign.

“We got parking here!”

“How? It still says full!”

It turns out the parking ticket machine was not working and Sean tinkered with the parking attendant and helped her fix it. She let us in. Hallelujah!

After parking the car, we got out to finally explore the city of Portland, grab some lunch and get donuts from the famous The Holy Donut. Portland is a lovely town, albeit stinky, at least near the waterfront with fish stink. If one walks away from the waterfront, however, it is a quaint seaside town with artsy boutiques and innovative restaurants. We lunched on shwarma, falafel and hummus in Olive Cafe and went to get dessert. As we were walking around we got phone calls from family that they were arriving at the dock with their families and luggage and since we were pros at figuring out how to transport luggage to Cliff island, we jogged back to give them a hand.

After hugs and confusion and bathroom breaks and innumerable ‘where is this child or that’ (there were 6 children in total ranging from 17 to 3 while four more waited for us at the island), we got on the ferry and our relaxing (maybe) break truly started.

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This is a view from the ferry on our way to the island.

It took about 40 minutes with two stops and we were finally there. We were finally away from the mainland, away from schedule, away from political news, away from internet. We were unwired, we were on island time. Sasha, Hexel, unnamed bikes, bags and bags of groceries were all unloaded on the dock. They needed to be carted to the house we rented which was only 4 houses down the dock. It sounded simple but we did not account for the acres of woods and yards between those four houses. While Sean, the kids and other relatives divided up the bags, tennis rackets, bikes, I took it upon myself to push the big crate of groceries up the hill to our house. The only car (a taxi service driven by a very elderly gentleman) stopped by me to ask if I was alright. He may have been concerned by my straining neck muscles and red face. I did it though only to realize I had stolen two banana boxes of groceries that belonged to somebody else. Those boxes hid underneath our scores of grocery bags. My brother-in-law, bless his heart, offered to take the banana boxes full of groceries back to the dock so they could be reunited with their rightful owner. I mumbled a thank you because I was stunned and exhilarated by the scene that greeted me in the living room of our rented house.

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This was going to be our view for the next seven days? Did I just arrive in heaven?

Seeing my husband standing next to me enjoying the view and not tackling the two kayaks outside got me into a panic mode.

“Why are you here? Why are you not bringing the kayaks from the dock?” I exclaimed.

“Your children are bringing them!” He gave a complacent smile.

“What?!?!?”

Sure enough, two little figures turned the corner in two kayaks paddling furiously to get them to our private little beach in front of the house. Oh, the joys of having older children!

the first evening was a blur between hugging and kissing family, unpacking and rearranging clothes, eating delicious sausage lasagne prepared by my youngest sister-in-law, laughing at the antics of the children, eleven in total, and then finally retiring to the bedroom and falling into deep slumber. I will post the picture of what I woke up to in the next installment. Stay tuned. 😀

 

 

 

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