Finding Space in Everyday Life

The last few weeks of my life has been practice on slowing down; finding space to breathe; and just being. Life happened one thing after the other. Deadlines at work; back to back family events; financial worries; computer crises- are just a few. Yet I know that I have so much to be grateful for- especially a healthy and a beautiful daughter to come home to.

Life- this tour de force is churning around me leaving monuments and debris on its wake. It feels like sitting in the eye of the tornado and watching things around us swirl and change. Friends and families going through changes in their lives- a close family member battling cancer; a friend seeing her one year old son battling cancer; a couple trying to find ways to live together; a family going through unemployment and financial woes; friends struggling with work pressures; friends trying to find significant others; and a new acquaintance going through separation. And on a more positive note- weddings, births, promotions, healing, travels and other opportunities.

While the lives around me is changing, my own is moving at a very fast pace. Most days I feel like I am being passed through several ringers and by the end of the day I am drained and washed out. My levels of problems are what you may call the Cadillac versions of the problem world. My week looks like- some job dissatisfaction, a hacked computer and lost access to all my data, work commute woes, child care expenses, family demands and tussles, pressures of starting a business- these are the new normal of my new life. My work also looks like – toothless and heart aching grins from my daughter; peace and quiet of precious alone times; debut of my small business; the assignment that went well; and baby steps getting back into driving; and the slowness of Sunday mornings.

Finding the space to put every day into perspective by being mindful of what is around me and inside me, keeps me sane. For examples work deadlines have their own place in my new life list and it is definitely not at the top. This new realization allows me to live a more or less normal and stable life- if it is not a life threatening factor- I know I will eventually get by.

Finding that space and perspective has everything to do with finding space in the day to day to be in touch with myself. This may translate into quiet time on the mat, a fifteen minute journaling before I go to bed, a quick walk, an extended yoga practice, or sometimes just a few mindful breaths before I go to bed. And staying open enough to connect with people- family and strangers alike. Making time to spend a few minutes with the newly returned from Family medical leave coworker; listening to the life story of that uber driver who is going through death, separation, and job loss with a heavy but pure heart; and rearranging the schedule to connect to a friend from ten life times ago.

 

 

Perfect Sunday in the Garden

My mind is blank today. The sun shines into my eyes. I see the tops of the trees. The power cables are long and sagging in the middle inviting the birds to swing away. The seat in front of me is empty. The sky is light blue with streaks of white clouds. There are houses veiled by the green of the woods. There are cars dying away in an empty yard strewn with trash. There is no purpose in my writing today. I feel free.

Just this week on Sunday, it seems like eons ago now, I had the sun on my back, sitting on the soft green grass, shelling pungent green onions fresh off the soil, and watching my husband sweat it out on our small kitchen garden. This year we are planting potatoes, string beans, brown beans, okra, tomatoes, asparagus, red chilies, and flowers.

Two neat rows of flowers will be followed by one and half row of potatoes and okra, with the beans sprinkled in between. Beans like to tangle and wrap around a sturdier plant for support. I don’t care much for the flowers. My father in law is the mastermind behind all these details and he directs all of us with the zeal of an avid gardener and an agriculture expert that he is.

We prepared the rows a month ago. One mild evening, we came out and turned the crusted earth top releasing the soft, moist, and fragrant earth underneath. We prepared neat rows of beds for the seeds to come to life. My husband who is somewhat of a perfectionist measured out the rows and tried to keep them parallel but the earth refused and it turned and it flowed whichever way it wanted to.

We made small holes in the rows around eight to ten in each, they looked like small palms cupped for prayers. The seeds were laid to rest cushioned by the dark soft market bought miracle grow filled to the brink. The wrinkled bluish and brown potato spuds; the small green crisp and round okra seeds; and the thin long and fragile string beans; we took them all out one by one and placed them into the soil pockets with reverence.

I see the sun shine on my nine month old daughter’s face. Her cheeks are rosy and her hair is tussled against the early warm winds. I watch over her protectively as a bee hovers nearby restraining myself from sweeping her off the ground and taking her inside the protective cloud of our home.

Nearby the green onions are coming off one by one, it is a slow process, where the clingy earth has to be removed from around the onion bulb. The onions come out with the roots still intact, smooth white bulbs giving way to long green stalks. All graceful, all perfect. Later in the evening, I will run the onions through cold tap water to remove the crusted earth underneath. They will taste nice and fresh fried with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. It is times like these when I feel at peace and grateful for the lives around me and writing about it is one more opportunity to relive it all.

 

 

 

The Ginger Bread Man

My throat is achy and scratchy today; it feels like a bug has found a home inside my throat, squirming every few minutes and prompting me to clear my throat and my thoughts. After a 530 am call this morning, my eyes are groggy and my mouth is dry. I am craving a cup of coffee but there was not enough time to grab one in between the two trains.

The sunlight is streaming in from the wide windows of the train. The hazy, dusty, and yellow sunlight- the kind that makes you think of golden vacation days where the day is stretched out bright and shiny ahead of you. The tall skinny trees are lined up against the train tracks neatly in a row. My mouth is parched and I gently touch the tip of my lip with my moist tongue.

I left my daughter with my mother this morning. She was awake at 6 am, still half asleep, in her baby blue pajamas, and her little white jacket with leaves splashed all over them. When I put her on my mother’s lap, she made noises that sounded like a mouthful of scolding ‘how dare you let me go’, her eyes wide open and alert. She is going to be a bossy baby one day.

The story of the “ginger bread man” walked back into our lives this weekend. Decades ago, my mother bought the ginger bread man book for my sister while shopping for books for the school year. That year we got to buy one extra book each that was not part of our curriculum, a rate treat given how tight our finances were those days. My sister chose a large hard cover lime green version of the “Ginger Bread Man” and I chose “The sleeping beauty” a small dainty book clad in pink.

Years later, standing at the book store in college, contemplating a gift for a two year old, whom I was going to meet for the first time, I was reacquainted with the Ginger Bread man again. I quickly purchased the book, wrote a small note, and packed it for my trip to Washington DC. The year was 2003, and the little girl is now 16 years old and is getting ready to go to high school.

On Sunday, my daughter received a copy of the “The ginger bread man” – the same one that I had gifted to the little girl who is now in high school. Under my 2003 note, there is a fresh set of note that says “To Avni baby, I hope you enjoy the book as much as I did”- the dates are now 2016. My daughter swiped her tiny palms on the writing, and the black ink smudged across the page, as if on cue recognizing the importance of this moment, she was determined to leave her tiny marks on the page. Who knows where the book will go next.

 

 

The mother that I was going to be

As I rushed out the door this morning at 6:30 am to begin my two hours commute to work, I took one last look at my eight month old daughter. She was sprawled on the floor on her back getting her diaper changed by her grandma, throwing hands and legs in the air, eyes wide awake, ready to play. I looked into her eyes when I said goodbye and blew kisses at her across the room. I tried to squeeze in as much love as possible into that gesture to last us through the day.

As soon as I reach the office, I call home and if she is awake, I will hear gurgling on the phone. Then for the next 4-5 hours I switch into my work mode until the afternoon when I call her again. When I can, I dash out of work early, but most days I do not get so see her until 11 or 12 hours after. Sometimes I see a small child on the commute back and everything in me twists in a visceral instinctive want to see and hold my daughter.

In the evening when she sees me, she puts forth a little energy dance, her hands and feet shaking not unlike the wagging tails of a happy puppy dog. We hug, we kiss and we make up for the long hours of separation- or at least I do. She is perfectly happy at home with her grandparents. My mother then brings forth the tales of the day, the new tricks she learned, what she ate, how many hours she slept, the number of diapers she went through and I savor these like little pieces of treasure and quietly tuck these away in my box of memories to be pulled out and examined later in detail.

My parents are taking care of my daughter full time. Yes I am very fortunate. This is the genuine unbridled and unconditional love, the kind that only grandparents have reserves of. They wake up well before her, change her diapers, coddle her, play with her, prepare her food from scratch, put her to sleep, give her an oil massage and warm bath most days, and everything in between.  All of this happens while I am sitting at my desk answering emails and dealing with situations at the other end of the world.

When I was pregnant, I had several ideas about what kind of mother I was going to be. I was going to be that mother who would go through the pain of labor and push for a natural childbirth. I was going to be that mother who would only breastfeed her baby exclusively for six months. And when she is ready for solid food, I was going to feed her organic only. I was going to be that mother who would keep her away from TV and phones. I was going to be that mother who was going to send her daughter to day care when she reached six months.

One by one I had to let go of all these standards. After three hours of labor, I broke down and took epidural- some would say the easy way out. Breastfeeding was painful -she did not know how to latch on and once on she did not want to let go. My back was on fire most days and I did not produce enough milk.

Once I started working, I could not keep up with the milk demands and after several days of guilt tripping myself, I finally broke down and introduced formula. She was exclusively breastfed for three months only. She is eating her solids now and these are by no means organic but at least they are all homemade for now.

To soothe her from time to time, we give her a good dose of you tube and Television. The ‘animal songs’ and the ‘old mac Donald’s’ and all other baby songs are on repeat on our phone. And I did not have to send my daughter to day care at six months after all, her grandparents agreed to take care of her for six more months.

So what kind of mother have I become? The kind that knows she is missing out on her daughter. Yet if I were given the opportunity of becoming a stay at home mother, I will still not take it. I know that I am not a home maker by any means. I need my job but it is more than just a means to pay my bills.

I have become the ‘do it all, have it all, and be it all’ mother where life most days becomes a logistics, a juggle to find the right balance, cutting this out and adding that in, to keep moving. The mother who is bursting with pure flashes of love and longing and sometime there is a crushing pain of separation and guilt. Sometimes there is a sense of balance and Zen and have it all, sometime I feel like I am failing at everything. Increasingly I have learned to let go of definitions and standards and expectations and make peace with this messiness, this roller coaster ride.

The only standard that I am keeping to these days is that at the end of each day is to spend time with my daughter, we sometimes take walks together, or play with her favorite toys, or I sing or read to her, or if I am too tired, we lie down together in bed watching you tube videos.

A non-native

The first book I read in 2016 is ‘The Speckled People’ by Hugo Hamilton. Once upon a time, a long time ago, I finished every book I started. These days I do not have so much time on my hand, therefore I have to be extra careful about what I pick. I read the first few pages and that usually is a good indication of how the book is going to turn out. The first few pages of the ‘The specked People’ reminded me of being wrapped up in a warm fluffy blanket and a cake baking in the oven while the wind is howling outside.

The book is set in Ireland and is a childhood memoir of the writer, the son of a German woman fleeing the post war Germany and an Irish man who is fighting the English invasion of Ireland. The book is about languages and what shapes our love of a language. This book resonated with my own love of English language. I am a non-native. English is my adopted language.

I grew up in Kathmandu, speaking and listening to four different languages -Nepali, Hindi, English and Newari. Each with its own flavor and English was my language of adventure and escape. English to me as painted by the world of young adult books at that time was a milky white world of clean and wide road, of farms and cheeses, of white bread sandwiches and orange juice, of boys and girls deep in adventures and of everything else that I was not.

At the same time English was the language of pain, torment, timidity, class and sometimes pride. Pain and torment when asked to speak in English in front of the class or to an American tourist visiting your house; class when the bright eyed peer from a posh English school spoke English fluently while you stood awkwardly on the side; and pride when you held a decent conversation in English outside of what you had mugged up from the grade school grammar book.

When I first moved to the US in 2001, English became the language of everything. At first it felt cold, sterile and alien- like standing in the cold that envelops you after you come out of a warm shower with no end at sight. Speaking English was painful. First I had to lay out what I had to say in Nepali, and then I converted it slowly in my head, word by word from Nepali to English.

I began to dislike going to classes that asked ‘what is your opinion’, science, math and language classes were safe choices. I did not have an opinion and if I did by the time I converted what I had to say from Nepali to English- word by word- until it felt just right- and slowly raised my hand – it would be too late already. I was not fast enough for the American kids who had decades of experience voicing their opinion. I remember sitting in a group with my peers- all conscious and wrapped up in painful silence trying to find the right and correct words to speak. And it was around this time that I stopped reading for fun. English was no longer my language of fun and escape but that of reality and struggle.

Fast forward to today, over a decade later, out of all the languages that I speak, English is the one that I am most comfortable with. I like the way I write, speak, and listen in English. I have written countless papers, read countless books, and made countless presentations in English. English is what I am most comfortable expressing myself in regardless of the context – social or professional or otherwise. English language has become my home, it is so much of who I am, and it is what I have lived in for the most part of my adult life. It will not be an exaggeration when I say that I love English language. So it hurts when someone says English is not your native language- it is like when someone tells you that your home is not your home- it is temporary and borrowed.

For my daughter born in the US to two Nepali parents, who has a Nepali name and who will be speaking in Nepali at home- will she be defined as a non-native speaker? Is being born in the US enough to be a native speaker regardless of who your parents are and what language you speak at home?

Early memories of reading in Kathmandu

I want to read at least 25 books this year, which would mean an average of two books a month, a realistic feat considering that I work full time and have a newborn. My love affair with books started when I was young. Some of my precious memories from childhood are that of sunny afternoons curled up in the terrace with a good book. At that time library in Kathmandu was a rarity, these were few and far between.

There was the grand and intimidating British Council housed in a beautiful white washed Rana palace at a walking distance from my home. Thick hard cover books mostly from strange mostly British writers lined up the walls. There was plush carpet, computers for use that were always occupied, and glass doors that led to a hushed silence and tantalizing opportunities for overseas studies. I knew from talking to friends and families and a job at one of these libraries were highly coveted.

One my earliest memories from the British council is that of a friendly Newar reed thin man with thick black mustache who looked down at me and said ‘did you actually read all these books? You just checked them out yesterday; we haven’t yet entered these into our system’. Yes I had read them; I chose the thin skinned abridged versions of the classics that were easy to read.

Then much later my best friend introduced me to American Women of Nepal (AWON) library run by AWON that was casual and appealing to my age group compared to the British Council. The library was housed in one of those modern buildings right next to a main traffic line. I remember it like yesterday, the library was housed in the second floor, you had to take off your shoes and put it in one of the brown cubby holes, and you walked into the reception area.

I learned much later that the library itself was mostly run by volunteers, students from one of those prestigious schools who could speak in English and who were honing up their resumes to apply to foreign schools. There was only one paid employee and his name was Ram dai a soft spoken friendly man with pock marks on his face. Ram dai lived somewhere near my neighborhood, I started running into him, shy painful hellos started turning into warm conversations.

After registration I was given 5 paper pockets and an identification card. I could check out five books at a time, the librarian would take the book card and insert it into the pocket with my name and keep it in his files. He would then stamp the return date onto a paper sheet attached onto the last page of the book. Much later when I myself joined the library as a volunteer to get a free membership and yes to hone my resume to apply to schools overseas, the paper cataloging was replaced by an electronic system.

AWON introduced me to Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Agatha Christie; famous five and yes Mills and Boons romance. Right before schools closed for winter recess, my dad would take me on his red motor bike and dispose me in front of the library, I had 15 minutes to find books and check them out. Most days tired of waiting he would come upstairs and find me locked into the painful indecision on which book to take home. The sweet anticipation of 5 books waiting to be devoured was one of the few things that I looked forward to in my childhood.

Books and reading has since then been a constant companion for me. These have helped me get through some of the toughest points in my life and taught me how to be my own best friend. Over the course of time my tastes changed, I discovered my love for travel writing and non-fiction spiritual writing and self-help books. I try to think of that exact moment in life where I knew that I enjoyed readings, there is not one particular moment but several small incidents that come to mind.

The yearly trip to the bookstore in Kalimati at the one and only Ekta book store in Kathmandu would end up with me browsing the story book aisles while my mother worked with the store clerk on getting together the yearly school supplies. One time my mother splurged and bought two non-school books for us mine was sleeping beauty and my sister picked the ginger bread man. That was my very first story book that I owned.

Another time my grandfather who was on the board of an all boy’s boarding school in phurping right outside Kathmandu took us there for a visit. The school sent us a mustard green jeep for pick up. When we arrived there at the headmaster’s modes one floor living accommodation, I discovered there a room full of books. These books were donated by foreigners with good intentions. The headmaster seeing my amazement said I could pick out two books to take home with me. I picked a fat red book with a collection of fairy tales thinking that these would last me for a long time.

There are several such memories. I want my daughter to enjoy reading and I dig through my memory lane to find a pattern or dig up a formula that would get her hooked to reading. I haven’t come up with any so far- my father never finished high school and does not like to read; my mother finished her graduate degree but I have not seen her read for pleasure. None of them spent time with us to get us to read but they did the best they could with the limited resources we had at the time and plenty of encouragement to nurture my love for reading. And I want to do the same for my daughter.