Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Listicle

It's not Thanksgiving day and therefore expressing gratitude on social media is banned or worse, "uncool".But I'm going to do it, anyway. After dropping off the kids at school with my shirt, inside out the whole time and almost waving at somebody who wasn't waving at me, I'm sort of on a roll don't you think? Riding the dork wave here!
Anyway, here are a few things I am so grateful for. Not an exhaustive list, by any means.

1. A good lipstick. 

2. Wet wipes. God's own gift to harried moms with snotty kids and everything else.
3. Coffee. An endless supply of foamy coffee. I have dreams occasionally about drinking coffee, which is how addicted I am.
4. A battery pack, for when your phone runs out of juice. Now if only they made one for humans. Imagine that! 
5. Angels in disguise (AID, patent pending). These pure souls are everywhere if you know how to look for them. It could be the nice old lady in front of you at the story or your son's teacher or your best friend or your mom. No matter what form they take, they can make you smile again with a quick joke or a kind word. Look out for them and if you find one, grab on and don't go (except maybe the kind old lady, who's getting ready to whack you on the head with her cane)
6. Because I'm that basic, I thought I'd finish off this list with something that speaks to my hokey sense of humor- Memes. The best thing that came out of the 2000's, this format of humor is irreverent and forever evolving. I consider it therapeutic and refreshing, especially after a long hard day of sitting on your butt moping about the stupid green grass on the other side.



Lolololol!

Nostalgia

Nostalgia. That word takes you back, months, years to a different century. Sepia toned and fuzzy at the edges. A wonderland filled with memories and the joys associated with those memories.The sounds of childhood summers and rain drenched afternoons. Road Trips with friends and school trips to the zoo. The smell of your mom as she snuggles you to sleep. Lazy Sunday mornings and the scent of cotton candy. Your favorite singer crooning his easy song. Summer romances and matinee shows. You close your eyes and wish hard, so hard to be back there in that magical place where you're still young and carefree.

Nostalgia is very forgiving. The pain, the heartbreaks, and the tears are masked by fluffy, shiny reminiscences of an uncomplicated time.  And that's pretty understandable. Your brain wants you to remember only the good parts. Why be a downer and make you relive the gloomy stuff. 

I take it one step further. I get nostalgic for times I don't even have a clear memory of. I was listening to a snatchy song in the car the other day. The familiar melody hit my ear, the eighth cranial nerve passed that information to my brain and whoosh! I was off! Hardcore reliving the romance and abandon of "that era". After a dreamy few minutes, the song trailed off, and I floated down home, the chorus still ringing in my head, like a gusty breeze. Then, as my feet touched the ground, I realized.  I was likely 1 or 2 when that song came out. Still in diapers and eating dirt off my grandma's backyard. What was I nostalgic about? In fact, all these memories and associations were nothing but my gullible emotions projected on to someone else's idea of what constituted as romance. Yes, music transcends time and all that, but it's sort of ridiculous to get misty-eyed for a time when you didn't exist as a self-aware human being. 

Back when I was a relatively new mother, struggling with depression and unable to go back to work, nostalgia was like crack cocaine to me. I snuggled with my infant/toddler and drifted off to mental images of what I thought was a better time. I would willfully believe that life was easier when I was younger. And yes, to an extent it was. No worries about cooking/cleaning/child rearing/financial responsibilities. But I also overlooked the (all too real at the time) angst and worries that being a young adolescent brings about. All the heartbreaks and the hormone led poor decisions.The general suckitude of being a moody teenager. 

And ladies, that's why nostalgia is very seductive and dangerous. It shows you improbable possibilities and nudges you ever so slightly, and there you go again. Wasting precious time in the past while your right-now is put on pause. It's intoxicating with its promise to make you feel like life was so much better back then.Also known as the "grass is always greener" syndrome. Whatever you have going on, you want to believe that someone else's life or some other timeline is always better. And isn't that a dangerous rabbit hole to fall into?


Now that I'm a grown ass mother of 2 and those crazy years of having an infant constantly attached to the boob are behind me, I'm wiser. Nostalgia is mostly pointless. And tiring. But something you still reach for when you need some comfort. Like a smooth wine. Just a few minutes. Just a couple more glasses. Everybody needs that sometimes. But if you overindulge and refuse to stop, it's going to pull you in with carefully constructed illusions of (elusive) happiness. And then a headache. 

So yes, you may have been a free-spirited girl, or the ambitious professional or even both. You may have rocked a mini dress and danced till the crack of dawn. By your side, a Smokin' hot boyfriend or an entire year of lazy weekends. Euphoric flashbacks, songs, smells. And these are important. 
Your past is a big part of who you are now. But don't spend too much time there. Instead focus on your now. Your breathtaking children, made with love and wonder. Your maturity, where you pause before deciding to take offense. Your perfect job and that project only you can manage.Your hard-won successes both at work and at home. Your friends who still value what you have to say.Your child's heady scent as they bury themselves into your warm grasp. Your husband's smile and the first gray hair on his head, a testament to the wonderful years he's been with you. Your womanness, your stretch marks, your inner strength, your flaws. All woven into the essence of you.The value of your mere presence, your position at the head of the table and at the center of your young family.

This! This is your present. This is your prize. You've earned this! So cherish it. Don't reach for something unattainable in your past. Instead, stop and look around at your today, at your now. Hold this moment in your hands and marvel at how sublime it is. And then make that moment the best damn memory you can.




Disclaimer: Some of you are wondering if I am high (I'm not) or if I just rambled on for so long without a real point?? You're some of the more level-headed of my species, not susceptible to nostalgia or fantasy. I am jealous of you because you effortlessly live in the present. I work hard to do the same, so writing this down helps me as much as it hopefully helps my like-minded sisters.

Photo by Dana Cristea on Unsplash

Friday, May 4, 2018

Best medicine

It was late 2002.I was in my second year of MBBS, and pretty new to clinical rotations. I loved the patient encounters and was pretty good at eliciting a solid history. Patients usually liked me or tolerated me with some amusement (my conversational Marathi was pretty awful back then). 

We were almost finished with our internal medicine rotation and the only thing between us and a 3-day weekend was the practical exam. I had prepped hard and was confident that this test was mine to ace.

The morning of the exam, we reached the ward and our professor/examiner walked in. Our collective smiles evaporated in a quick instant. This professor was new to our College but had quickly gained a reputation for being a total hardass. He delighted in humiliating interns and students, and the general response to seeing him was to scurry away in the opposite direction. 

So here we were, fresh-faced and wobbly, weakly supported by our frail 18-month medical knowledge. Some of us still quivered when facing a patient, let alone a jackass examiner. 

The residents came by and allocated us our patients. I looked down and cheered inwardly. Score! I had landed a patient with a possible stroke and those cases were gold! Because the field of Neurology was still above our pay grade, so to speak, any ineptitude or general fuc**ry on my part would be expected and pardoned.

And that's when my troubles began. As I walked over to my patient, some of my joy slowly vanished. First impressions and initial diagnosis - 75-year-old male, right-sided stroke, with an obvious distaste for perky medical students. Still, I plastered this garish smile on my face and started to take a history. Rather, attempted to. The patient, (let's call him, Mr. Joshi) refused to acknowledge me or my queries. It was rather impressive, this frail old man, using all his motor strength and willpower to turn away and sniff every time I bleated a question. I mean, homeboy had partial paralysis and weakness in his limbs but he still swung his body this way and that, deflecting all attempts at talk. By the end of 10 minutes both of us were sweating - him from the physical exertion of avoiding me and me from the enormity of the shit hole I saw myself in. 

Finally, his wife, who was piously chanting with her Jap mala (rosary beads), sighed and took pity on me. I got a barebones history from her and I tried to fill in the blanks as much as my imagination let me. A physical examination was out of the question because Mr.Joshni snarled and hissed every time I so much as extended a finger in his direction. His face was now red from the excitement of thwarting my efforts. The corner of his mouth was drooping from the stroke but his eyes! They were beady-eyed and gleaming with intense and passionate dislike. 

Soon, our time was up, and we were asked to sit and not interact with our patients (ha!). A little while later, the examiner (Dr.Hardass) moseyed on towards me. I breathed a prayer and presented my history + findings to him. My performance was incredibly subpar, nearing on "piss poor" territory. Dr.Hardass knew it and I knew it. He started with a short taunt, a quick trailer of the reaming he was going to send my way. I gulped, unable to really give him a coherent reason for why I sucked so bad, without ratting on my patient. So I shut up, answered some neurology questions as best as I could. Soon the rapid ratatat barrage of insults started raining down on me. My eyes glazed over and I went to my happy place. A couple of minutes later, a new set of sounds entered the field. Disoriented, I looked around, wondering if anyone had let loose some sneaky farts when I heard it again. 

Looked down at my patient. Mr. Joshi was shaking strangely, his face contorted and his eyes wet. His mouth, still drooping from the stroke was spasming and making these hissing sounds. For a short second, I thought I was witnessing another stroke and awed, I just stared at him. And then realization hit me. 

The old geezer was laughing at me. Laughing so hard it seemed that he was in the throes of a particularly nasty seizure. As my face grew hotter, he shook and convulsed, spittle flying from his lips. He was not going to let some paltry stroke stop him from enjoying himself at my expense. I swear, he even slapped his bony knee a couple of times. Dr.Hardass, who was just as surprised as I was by this outburst, took a break from insulting me.
Then just to make sure his audience was still with him, he belted out a couple more snubs at me and looked down expectantly. The snickers and giggles kept coming strong. Satisfied, he started in on his closing statement, which mainly involved my IQ levels and how he'd seen sheep with a higher level of brain functioning. 

 That afternoon, I found out that I had barely passed that exam. Maybe some pity seeped into Dr.Hardass' cold, dead heart and he decided to let me skate by. I don't remember much more of that day, except I was very tired and very done with the entire male species.

The next time, I saw Mr. Joshi was a week later.  He was getting transferred to a care facility closer to his home. I was on the other side of the ward when I saw him get up unsteadily and reach for his cane. His face was still impacted by the stroke, but it looked like there was some improvement in his other functions. His son, bustled around, looking busy and purposeful, and together they slowly left the ward. I went back to filling my patient chart when I got a whiff of Jasmine. Saw the jap mala beads out of the corner of my eye. Mrs. Joshi was hovering near me, hoping to get my attention. I was confused and was about to turn away when she said, "Doctor. Doctor, aika na (please listen)". I paused, not sure if I was up for this. Before I could say anything, she continued, " Thank you. Thank you very much". 
Now I was properly suspicious and looked around to see if I could spot Mr.Joshi chuckling from behind a door. 
She smiled and said, "My husband is a retired accountant. All his life, he prided himself on his health and discipline. He worked hard, never smoke or drank and always ate healthy. So.....this stroke.This stroke was a big shock to him. Broke his body and almost broke his spirit. He was depressed for days, angry and irritable and nothing we did made a difference. I was so worried about him when you came along. That day, oh deva! That day, I saw my husband belly laughing after a long time and I knew he would be ok. So thank you for that".

I must have mumbled something appropriate, and she walked off - her head slightly bowed and adorned with fresh flowers. 

I stared after her for a while. Then shrugged and smiled. And feeling particularly awesome, I hummed a tune and went about my day.


Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Mama

I grew up in a tiny city, on the west coast of India called Bombay. I was a surprise baby - a happy surprise, my mom insists. She raised me in a warm cocoon of love and laughter, with my grandparents helping out when she needed them to step in.My dad did his best when he was around, which wasn't too much because he worked for an airline. Even with a full-time job, she tutored me and helped me with school projects. An accomplished chef, she made sure I ate a reasonable balance of healthy and junk foods. She joked with me and cried with me and essentially was the epitome of selfless and unconditional love. She was (is) a cheerful soul, taking life's blows and brickbats with a smile, and she never ever dumped any of her baggage on us. She made it look so easy- my sister and I grew up thinking that motherhood was just a casual phase of life. Easy as pie. 

I was proven so terribly wrong after the birth of my son. I was reeling from postpartum depression and an especially difficult pregnancy. I was moody and irritable. I resented other moms and my own mom for having it so easy. When my son was around 18 months old, he was diagnosed to have autism. That started a whole new avalanche of self-blame and anger. I felt like a victim and pretty much sucked at the whole motherhood thing. 

A few nights later, I was anger sobbing to my mom over Skype when she told me to stop talking. And listen. 

"Motherhood is never easy, Pavi,", she said. I protested, remembering how breezily she sailed through our entire childhood. "That's because I worked extra hard to make sure you girls never saw me struggling. Remember, I worked a full-time job, lived with my in-laws and still did all the household work. Sure, I had 2 easygoing daughters, but nothing was handed to me on a plate. Everything I did, I worked hard at."

I was surprised. This was the first I had had a glimpse of her behind-the-scenes life.She continued, "The easiest part of being a mother is giving birth. Everything after that is hard work. Pure and simple.But that doesn't mean, you don't enjoy life. In fact, you enjoy it more. You see everything with brand new eyes and from the perspective of your little child. So stop whining and start taking responsibility."
She got quiet for a while, as did I. Then she said, " I only have one regret. I should have shared some of my struggles with you girls. I tried so hard to give you both a good time that I forgot to expose you to real life,". 

My mom taught me so many things. But her best lesson was spoken in her quiet voice. Across oceans and countries, over a tinny Skype call to 28-year-old me, while I rocked my sobbing 18-month-old son:
"There's no perfect mother. So let go of that illusion.Be who you need to be for your baby. Your role will constantly change and evolve. Sometimes you'll be your child's best friend and sometimes you'll have to squeeze their angry body as they rebel against you. There's really no right path here. No guarantees. So the simplest and best thing to do is to be your own kind of mother. Let your kids shape your role as a parent. So hang up right now and go live your life".

6 years later and those words still ring true. My mom is still the same person. She's the perfect grandma - my kids love joking and goofing around with her. 
And I am flawed. So flawed. I still get annoyed and irritated at trivialities. But I'm no less a mother than her. We just have different trajectories. While she worried about cooking and balancing the checkbook, I worry about therapy appointments and milestones. She struggled with in-laws and a regressive society whereas I struggle with finding inclusive schools and social skills groups. She tried to be perfect and shelter us from life's harshness. Me - I'm pretty open about letting my kids see me fail. And I hope and pray that they'll learn from me. 

At the end of the day, the kids and I are happy. I am not perfect, but hey, I'm rocking my own brand of motherhood.