Monday, August 18, 2014

a chicken flight

Back to school night again. That day when you get to meet your child's new teachers for the first time.  Sounds simple, doesn't it?  It was simple - till high school. Once you are in high school, things get complicated. First,  you cannot get away with sitting in just one classroom. Classes take place in different rooms.  Oh, it's an efficient system, all right. The bell rings at the start of every class. The parents go to the classroom and meet the teacher till another bell after 10 minutes or so. Then they go to the next class. and so on. But the classrooms are scattered all over the building. So we get a taste of what our children have to go through everyday. With a five minute break they have to get to their locker, get their stuff, and reach their classes on time through crowded corridors.

Second, most parents have no idea where the classrooms are, and there is so little time between bells. Sure, we are given maps and schedules. At the beginning of  the freshman year, everything is new to the parent. Armed with that map, and holding onto that schedule for dear life, I rushed through the hallways looking for the rooms. Some rooms seemed to be deliberately hiding from me, in never to be found corners. One classroom would be at  one end of the school, and the next one, at the other. I walked fast, ran, dodged other  rushing parents, stopped, came back, made detours, asked for directions to the students assigned to guide us hapless adults, and on the whole, got some exercise. In the end, after that mad dash, I would reach the intended classroom hot and sweaty and already worried about finding the next room.

When I came home and told my son of this, and asked him for clear directions for the next year's back-to-school night, he laughed, and politely refused. And informed me  that they all made fun of the parents' helplessness and ignorance. They enjoyed our confusion, and had this pact that they will provide no help in this matter - he gave me another laugh. So that was that. And I went through the same agony and ecstasy the next year too.

By the third year, I was prepared. I went 15 minutes early.  I was reluctant , naturally chicken, to do this before -- did not know if parents were allowed to roam around the halls ahead of time. But by then I was desperate (well, sort of - I have a tendency to exaggerate, if you haven't noticed it ) and was determined to do this right. So I ran around and found the whereabouts of all the classrooms. When the first bell rang I was pretty excited . Yep I am that eternal student who likes to be the (invisible) teacher's pet! Not that anyone is going to applaud me here for finding the classroom and turning up on time. hmpf! In other words, I was more interested in congratulating myself on my accomplishment rather than paying attention to what the real teacher was saying. Well, mostly. All in all it went well, but for one little part where I went and sat in one extra class, (which was not for that semester). hehe.

But this year, I was perfect! Again I went early, especially since I knew that construction had been going on during summer, and there were even more corridors, and even whole new floors to get lost in. And this time around, it was a breeze. I flew around as sure as a breeze too. No more the headless chicken! A young lady did help me when I asked her at one point. All this was done way before the bell, and I was ready. I found all the rooms, got inside each on time and did not go in to any unnecessary rooms. But I did laugh at myself when I caught myself always finding a seat near the door, as if ready to flee, the moment the bell rang. And I laughed at my glee when I got to the next one with time to spare. It seemed like a race that I had set against myself, and which I won. I patted myself on the back - not literally. I think there were points in time when listening to the teacher, I almost asked him or her  if I could leave early! So that I could run to the next one. kidding!

Anyway, it is over and done with. By this fourth year, I am an expert at navigating the labyrinthine routes of my son's high school. As I walked out of the building, it struck me that this is the last time I'll do this. This is my son's final year at high school. End of the road here. This has been a sort of learning for me as well. While in the before-high school period, I was a mess of nervous tension regarding the kind of teacher my baby was going to get, I find that now I am not as worried about that. I have learned that there is no point in worrying about something on which I have not much control. And by now my son has grown, and I trust him as an intelligent, well-adjusted human being. Well, he is still a teenager, so fingers crossed! While I won't miss the panic, I realize I will miss the back to school nights. By the time I learned to do it properly, it was time to leave for good. Unbeknownst ( ya, right!) to me, time was passing by, and I will have to do it no more.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

on a lighter note

The local homeowners association annual  meeting announcement -- a couple of days later. thought-provoking.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Thoroughly American Asha

It took almost 20 years. Although it is still not complete, I believe the change has set in. When I came here, I do not think I had any particular idea as to what America was. An extension of England? Part of that alien institution called the West? A great, urban, busy world of steel and concrete? Maybe a mix of all that. Then I started to live here. A kind of living. Where a person  from a cocooned life with a lot of people suddenly finds herself in a strange place, alone, and homesick. That was a time when I yearned for everything Indian, Keralan starting with the food.

In spite of a vague sort of anger against imperial England, I was (still am) always an Anglophile. That was why I studied English Literature back home. As I have written before, everything British was exotic, romantic, beautiful. Their countryside, their farms, cottages, gardens, castles, not to forget their pubs. I swam in their literature. I was in awe of the birthplaces and playgrounds of their writers. The streets of London were as familiar to my imagination as my own. And their Mystery writers! I read them back in India, and here, those were the only ones I could bear to watch on TV. A&E, back when they used to air those, and PBS were my refuge. That was my rather long drawn out English phase in America.

Meanwhile,  America has been sneakily getting through to me. Looking back, my son has had a huge effect on this, I think. In fact I ate my first hamburger and enjoyed it, when I was pregnant with him. Till then I couldn't stand the sight of it. And I became a foodie because of America, the melting pot. I watched children's shows with him, when he was young. I loved Batman as much as him. Still, I held on to my Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. ( Joe was the only child in his class who knew Poirot, when he was 5. )  Still, visiting England was a dream. Living there would be heaven, I thought. Oh, I watched Andy Griffith and I love Lucy. But the America that I encountered was so different from all that, that it did not move me to be American. 

The loss of my father was, ironically,  another catalyst in my americanization. Suddenly I was rootless. Nothing here, nothing back home. I was unaware that I was gradually putting down roots in this once strange country. All along I had known that this is the place where my son grows up, which he thinks he is a part of. But when my father was alive, I had thought that my home was where he and my mother were. Definitions of home change, I realize. The niggling wonder at the back of my mind all along must have been how my son looked at  this country that he happened to be born in. What made him love it so much, what made him proud to be American, that he wanted to fight for it. If he thinks so highly of it, surely there must be something special - the eternal student that I am, that made me rethink. I had learned a little bit of the nation's history during my college days. But that was nothing compared to what I learned from my experience as a mother in this country.

Needless to say,  my thinking changed. Many ideas and notions that I had heard and followed diligently back home were shattered. They came tumbling down, upside down, transformed. I saw the true enactment of self-reliance, self-confidence, and self-sufficiency. These ideals were present back home too, but when you tried to practice these ideals, especially if you are a woman, you will be called arrogant and selfish. In fact "self-centered' was the worst a person could be. And everyone seethed inside, some not knowing why. That spin on things was not conducive to happiness,I found. Speaking of women, the freedom that the American woman enjoyed ( still a long  way to go, for all women, and men) when compared to the women back in India, in dress, in demeanor, in choices, - all that was amazing to me. The very fact that the kitchen itself , as a space, and as an idea, is vastly different here fascinates me. The fact that men won't die if they stepped inside the kitchen! I was amazed. I am in love with the machines. It was not no pain, no gain. Suffering, especially for women, was exalted back in the old country. It was an art, as opposed to the ease with which things get done here. The unlimited supply of water and power. Of course, we read, we watch movies about all this . But the reality is far more enlightening. And  I am in love with the information paradise that is America. The uninterrupted internet. Then when I went on a visit to Kerala, the difference in  being a woman was all the more striking. Whereas I could walk minding my own business  in America, without being looked upon as public property, in my hometown, I had to be literally on my toes, and move with the agility of a boxer, in order to avoid gropers. For some of  the men there, women who venture out of their homes are asking to be mauled. Well, let's pray for those traditional superior moral souls, as I have often said before. Sometimes I wonder how the woman from a western country would see or hear the story of  a woman like me, an educated one - "quaint' would be one, a kind one, for a start. But then we are all products of our times in our own big or small parts of the world, our cultures, families etc.

As for TV shows, these days I find myself watching old Westerns. New (for me) heroes such as Maverick, Cheyenne, Bat Masterson, Marshall Dillon and Paladin entertain and educate me. I enjoy crime shows like  the Rockford Files, Magnum, P.I. etc. The American way of life and the way they were at different points in time - that interests me now. Not that these shows are the definitive pictures of America, but they are close, more or less. Or at least, they are one way to look at life, and above all, I feel I am a part of it all. But more than that I am surprised that I don't long to live in England anymore. Or even in Tuscany. Probably because old age has struck, and I no longer dream, but just to find that that romance of England is gone - the sudden drenchings over there did it! -- that is something different. Even Poirot has become annoying at times! yikes! sacrilege! My americanization , as of now, is a work in progress, as even now there are times I want to go back to Kerala for good, but the other option of America as my final home has taken hold for sure.