When I was in elementary school, there was this boy named Eric, who used to get picked on a lot. I don’t know why or how he had incurred so much wrath on the playground to be the butt of so many jokes. Looking back at pictures of him, I try to look for what made him such an obvious target to so many children. He was a cute kid – lanky and tall with a little bit of dork mixed in, like most per-adolescent kids. If I think really hard, I think that he used to pick his nose or something. Ah yes! That’s what started the teasing. As if some of my classmates weren’t picking their noses in the privacy of their own homes.
When we got to middle school, Eric was no longer there, but I recall another little boy named Carlos who was the brunt of a LOT of bullying. He was small in stature and kind of quirky. Perhaps he would have been left alone if he was more of the silent, brooding type. But no, Carlos was more like a yippy little chihuahua. He had opinions and he was loud and he didn’t seem to be bothered by the fact that he was so much smaller than the rest of the boys in the class. One day, one of the “cool” kids in the class shoved Carlos into one of the hallway lockers, which he miraculously fit in and slammed the door on him. I was not there but I still remember that cruelty to this day.
I was never a bully. And I rarely joined other friends in making fun of singling out a person. But there were times that I was silent. Times where I didn’t rock the boat out of fear for what that might mean for me. Sometimes it was just easier to let guys like Eric and Carlos fend for themselves.
I do recall stepping in a time of two to defend others and getting burned along the way. I recall one time in the 6th grade as we were playing soccer during gym class that I jumped in to help out a kid who was getting picked on. I was told to shut up, because I was just a stupid Hindu. Well, that DID shut me up, and I wish now that I hadn’t ever let it.
I often think about that silence now that I am an adult. Sure, I wasn’t an instigator. But I passively accepted the belittlement of my peers more times than not by not sticking up for them. I am not proud of that.
I sometimes wonder how my classmates like Eric and Carlos fared in life. Did they bloom and thrive and find their own groups of friends who accepted them at some point in their lives? I have wondered enough where I have done Facebook searches to see if I could find them, but I was unable to.
When I was growing up, my home life was hard. Very, very hard. Most of the time I could paste a smile on my face and show up to school, do what was expected of me, hand in my homework, turn in my exams and repeat on autopilot. But there were times where my frailty showed through and I shut down, allowing the chaos at home to ease into my thoughts at school until I was so distracted I couldn’t be the ace student my teachers expected me to be.
I wonder what the home lives of children like Eric and Carlos were like. Did they have parents who knew what they went through every day? Did their parents let them know they cared? In the absence of admiration and acceptance from their peers, did they find that love in the safety of their homes? I have always hoped so.
Last week, I wrote on the blog about how my daughter, Shaila, had heard some hurtful words at school about her skin color. My pain when she recounted the event was almost visceral in nature. Your empathetic responses, the response of the school and the response of the parents of the child who said the words went far beyond apology. They were words that healed.
But what happens when people aren’t given that chance to heal? Healing requires getting the words out there to begin with, and many times, people who are tormented are ashamed and don’t recount the pain aloud.
The harsh reality is that whether it is skin color, weight, size, some crazy quirky habit that a parent has come to love, a handicap or some other uniqueness, there is always the chance that a child can be singled out in a way that isolates them and makes them question their value and lovableness. As parents, John and I are doing all we can to ensure our kids know they can talk to us about what they are going through. But I think it’s a message we need to continue to reinforce. Will they know that we will always be there for them so we can give them that support at home and build them up again? Do they know that it’s not their shame to carry if they are bullied or mocked?
We are also teaching them that silence is not always the right answer, though it might feel like the easiest one. They don’t have to fight everybody’s battles for them, but they do need to know when to raise their voices to defend a friend or someone who needs support. I am still bothered by my own silence so many years later. I wish I had done more to defend classmates who needed someone in their ring. I hope my kids never face that regret themselves. If I teach them well, hopefully they never will.
It seems odd to me that as I approach 39 years of age, the faces of boys like Carlos and Eric still come to me so clearly. I know that there is at least one on every playground, every school. I hope that there are children who stand behind them and help them when they are pushed down. Who help them stand back up again. And I hope that there are parents who give them their unconditional support and love along the way.
That they are never alone.
Peace and light to you in this brand New Year.
The holidays are here and I am overwhelmed by all the things. All the things we have to do. All the things we have to check off. All the things we have to buy. I think somewhere along the way, I am expected to also cook some things. Bummer. It’s just, all the things.
But as I stumble and trip over all these things in my mind, I am also stumbling over all the things that we do have in our life quite literally. The things that we have accrued over the years which find themselves strewn all over our house. Which seems quite large, but never large enough for all these darn things we keep acquiring.
I’d like to say we live a simple life, but I’d be a liar. I have never been good at editing down the things that we have and while I feel like I am in a never ending cycle of giving things to charity to streamline the closets that seem to be overflowing, there somehow always seems to be more things around the corner. More clothes. More toys. More shit we just don’t need.
And now Christmas is here and my kids think they have been really good all year (which is an entirely different blog post altogether) and are expecting, you guessed it. More and more THINGS.
And while I want my children to be excited about the holiday and while I want them to run down the stairs with excitement and anticipation in every little step as they run towards the tree on Christmas morning, I want them to be less focused on the things. The new things. The shiny things. All the carefully wrapped things.
But how can I expect that from them, when all I’ve ever done is give them more and more things? They have never wanted for anything that I can really think of. Closets full of clothes, toy chests that are never empty, bookshelves that are overflowing with beautiful words. They have been fortunate in this life to never come face to face with the true meaning of “need”. Instead, they are children who mistakenly believe that “want” and “need” are the same things. I have allowed that. My husband and I have given them a life so far removed from the life that I lived as a child and one that’s planets away from the hard lives our parents faced before us.
They are children of privilege. They are children who know, have and expect things. I can explain to them that the holidays are not about receiving things but about giving things, but they are 5 and 7 and I fear that while they will nod along like they understand, they probably won’t understand all that well if they don’t find more of the things they are expecting underneath the tree.
A part of me wants to explain to them that Santa isn’t going to be there for every child, whether that child has been naughty or nice. I want to explain that “Santa” isn’t a part of the vocabulary of many of the children in this world, regardless of their faith. That for these children, there is no special day where their innocence and grace and virtue is acknowledged by presents and coveted things.
I want to explain this to them, but another part of me struggles with how to explain this to them. How do you explain that while my daughter is up on her bed the night before Christmas, sleeping lightly because of the anticipation of all the new toys and treats that await her when she wakes, that other children around the world are praying for the next meal? Praying for water or clothes or the love of a lost parent? Maybe just plain survival?
The things we really need.
I’m not sure how to get there but this Christmas, I’d like the biggest present that my children receive to be the lesson of grace. I haven’t fully thought out how to deliver that lesson yet, but I think it goes something like this:
Grace is not in the material things we surround ourselves with but resides in the spirits of the people we love and who love us.
Grace is not in the receiving, but in the giving.
Grace in giving comes with giving freely, without needing acknowledgement.
Grace can come in the smallest and most unexpected packages.
Grace may not always be something you can touch, but if your mind and heart are open, it is something you can always feel.
Grace might not be in the addition of things to your life, but in the act of recognizing the many gifts you already have in your life.
I have a lot of lesson planning to do before I get this right this year. Friends, are any of you struggling with how to send the right message to your children this holiday? Is anyone interested in helping me plan what this lesson truly looks like? Because I really think I could use some help with this right about now.
I am going to be honest. I have not watched “12 Years a Slave.” I mean to. I really do. But every time it comes down to committing to watching it, I just can’t make myself do it.
I have also not watch “Django.” Or “The Kite Runner.” Or “Rabbit Wire Fence.” Really anything that will make me cry. Ugly, heaving cries.
By the way, did I ever tell you about the time I read “The Kite Runner”? I was on a plane from Washington Dulles to San Diego and I was almost 7 months pregnant. I add that last fact in only to make you think that my hormones might have lead to some of my response to that book. In truth, it probably would not have made much of a difference. I sobbed on the plane reading that book. Like, sobs that made the other passengers sitting next to me uncomfortable. I tried to muffle my sorrow, but the tears flowed like tiny rivers down my face, landing in smudgy little drops on the pages of the book as I read.
For months afterwards, my mind would replay certain scenes from that book and I would find myself fighting tears again. I would drift off to bed at night with the last thought being of the horrible child rape scene in the book.
That was just from reading a book.
I want to watch hard things. I really do. I want to watch movies that touch on the most horrible human brutality. I want to watch movies that show me the state of a world I don’t know, like “Hotel Rwanda.”
But then again. I don’t.
I am a very visual person. I don’t forget what I see. It’s why I can’t watch horror movies either. When I was 7, I saw the movie “Poltergeist.” To this day, I still can remember every graphic, twisted and disturbing scene from that movie. 7 was a long time ago. But my mind, and my heart, still hold on.
A few months ago, a good friend of mine posted something on Facebook about how important it is that people watch movies like “12 Years a Slave.” After all, we have a choice to watch a movie about it while fellow humans didn’t have a choice and had to actually live it. I understood exactly where she was coming from, but again, I knew that I wasn’t going to be sitting down any time soon with that movie.
I am a sensitive person. I do not think I am necessarily more sensitive than other people, the only thing I know how to explain is how I feel. When I watch a movie like that, it takes an emotional toll on me, one that I am not that quick to bounce back from. It weighs on me and exhausts me and pulls me down under the heavy weight of it. I feel helpless, I feel angry, I feel empathy, I feel pain. My heart wants to burst. And I sit there and my mind replays things. Again and again and again. The movie doesn’t end in my mind, even after the final credits have run.
I know that terrible atrocities occur every day in this world. But I can’t always watch and listen and read about them. I don’t want to go running towards the opposite end of the spectrum and sit with my feet up on the couch catching up on “The Kardashians” which munching on popcorn, but I do know that I have a threshold for how much human pain and suffering I can expose myself to before I start to become an emotional wreck who wants to be an activist for every social cause I feel any passion for.
When something like the horrible factory collapse happened in Bangladesh a year and a half ago happened, which left laborers basically dying in a massive coffin, people around the world were angry and sad. I was one of them. I cried and I imagined what it must have been like for the people in that building. I built stories in my mind about the children they undoubtedly left behind. I imagined “Slumdog Millionaire” type scenarios in my mind about what was to become of the orphaned children.
That’s how I process things. And in some ways, it is extreme.
You know, I know that in some ways I’m a coward. But I also think that I am very much a realist. I know how much I can emotionally take and process without putting myself in a state of paralysis.
Yesterday, the internet (ok, hardly) almost damn near broke because of Kim Kardashian’s ass being on display. And then it almost broke again (ok, not really) when photos of her entire naked body were revealed. And it’s kind of sad that there are so many things going on in this world that we should be talking about and addressing, but every person on the internet was most likely exposed to some aspect of Kimmy K.’s nudity yesterday.
I think our fascination with all the fluff is because we can’t, in my best Jack Nicholson voice, “handle the truth.” The truth is hard. The truth is scary. The truth is so much more painful to process sometimes then looking to see what the favorite reality star du jour is wearing (or not). Sometimes avoiding the truth is a result of pure apathy, but sometimes, it’s the exact opposite of apathy that makes people steer clear of it. Why should we talk about the impact of the Ebola scare on the rest of Africa when we can take about Blake Lively being pregnant? Why should we talk about the sex trade in Thailand when Rihanna is back on Instagram.
As I re-read this before I hit “publish” the thought that comes to me is that I really am going to make an effort to embrace watching emotionally challenging things, no matter how hard it might be. I think it’s okay to feel a little wounded and have your heart be more sore. It’s okay if you have to cry and push yourself a little harder to try to place yourself in someone’s very uncomfortable shoes. But…it’s also okay if you just can’t.
“Empathy is really the opposite of spiritual meanness. It’s the capacity to understand that every war is both won and lost. And that someone else’s pain is as meaningful as your own.” Barbara Kingsolver
I haven’t felt compelled to create anything in a while. This both saddens me and relieves me; in my past the pull to write or make music was so strong sometimes that I would find myself endlessly frustrated when I didn’t have the time to devote to crafting something. Lately, time is not on my side. I find myself so busy with work and family that I can hardly close my eyes fully at night for fear that I have forgotten just one more thing. When I do find those glimpses of free time between conference calls, getting deliverables done and running to the next meeting, I find myself sucked into nothing worthwhile. Mostly I troll Facebook. I refresh my feed a lot because I don’t have much time to spare and I want only the “newest” news.
Yes, I use the term news loosely.
The reality is that my schedule has caught up with me. I bring work to bed. I wake up early to jump on early transcontinental calls. I go to parent-teacher conferences and feel like a bad parent, because no, I missed the email about the age appropriate books the teacher is recommending the class reads. What email about the system where I can check up on her Science progress? Darn, I must have missed that one too.
No matter how much I run, whenever I feel like I catch up, I am still far off the mark. Because.
There is always one more thing.
These one more things add up quickly to become a whole shit load of things that I need to conquer in my life. When you are sitting with all of the one more things, they weigh on you and it’s hard to be creative. Your creativity feels like a luxury that you can no longer afford. The one more things cross your mind again and again. This things that are due tomorrow at one end of your brain and the unsettling call you had with your client occupying the other end. It’s damn near impossible to find the creative energy to then shift gears when the weight of one more things is weighing you down.
To take it a step further, it’s hard not to feel guilt when you do something that’s just for you. Sure, once the kids are in bed, go for it. If you aren’t already ready to crumble in a heap on the sofa or fall lifeless on your bed.
Where once there were ideas, there is now silence. Where once I could push myself creatively at a much more aggressive pace, I can no longer do that. I already feel like a wobbly and sloppily placed string of dominoes. I feel like adding more pressure to produce creatively right now will send those dominoes tumbling.
How do you pull yourself out of situations like this so that you can still create, write and find joy in the things you love that selfishly, are really only for you? How do you get beyond feeling suffocated by all the one more things without drugging yourself heavily and find the time to work on your craft?
I am not sure. My questions are not rhetorical. I genuinely want to feed my soul by writing and songwriting more and I truly don’t know how to work myself out of this space where I feel so confined and creatively ensnared.
How do you find the time around your responsibilities to still find time for creativity? What do you sacrifice as a result? If you’ve given up on your creative pursuits because of the weight of one more things, how do you feel about it?
There are times in life where I feel like it’s easier to be hard on ourselves than forgiving; when it’s easier to point out all our shortcomings than to accept that we are truly exceptional at some things. Lately, I have been finding myself going through this and I am having a hard time coming out on the other side of it.
A few years ago, I went through something that caused a great deal of emotional turmoil for me. It seems like it was so long ago in some ways, like yesterday in others, but let’s just say that I have never fully recovered from the emotional roller coaster ride I experienced over the next few years.
I found myself doubting myself in ways that I had never doubted myself before. I lost my voice. Instead of the loud, commanding one I used to confidently wield, I found myself retreating, uncomfortable with the sound of my voice or my words. I had become a timid shell of myself. In an effort to anesthetize, I drank too much and made bad hair decisions, none of which helped elevate my confidence.
That doubt made its way into the many corners of my life, working its way into all of the areas I felt encompassed me as a person. It permeated through what I thought I knew about myself and made me question everything.
Where was I in my life? What had I really accomplished? Was I successful? Was I doing something that I thought was valuable? Hell, was I valuable?
The thing with doubt is that it’s a powerful thing. It worms its way into your head and can make you think the darnedest things about yourself. You start to stumble in areas where you once sailed by. People who once thought your capabilities were limitless start to doubt you too, for doubt can be contagious. After all, if it’s obvious you don’t believe in yourself, why should anyone else?
A few weeks ago, I had my twentieth High School Reunion. I think that having this coincide with a time in my life where I didn’t feel like my feet were grounded firmly in the ground was not the easiest thing, but life is not perfect and I understand that most of my fellow classmates must have their own crap that they have to navigate. I felt like I was really, really hard on myself on the weeks leading up to the event.
Nothing was right.
I didn’t feel or look my best.
I was not altogether satisfied with where I am in my career.
I questioned whether I was a good mother.
Everything was under a microscope – not by anybody else, but by me.
I used to be in Project Management and one of the things you always have to manage towards on projects is scope creep. Making sure that the client doesn’t try to expand the breadth of the project beyond what is committed in the contract. Scope creep always happens. It’s human nature to want to push the boundaries to see how much more you can get out of something. But I was starting to realize that the expectations I placed against myself were seriously verging on a different kind of scope creep, because nobody had ever defined the scope of what I was supposed to be.
I think the standards that I started to set for myself were unrealistic and overwhelming. I was setting myself up for failure and disappointment. Making mental comparisons with others where it was inevitable that I would fall short, forever focusing on what I lacked versus what I had.
When I take a step back and regain perspective, I always come back with the same conclusion.
You’re so goddamn hard on yourself.
And it’s not doing anybody any favors. Particularly myself.
I think that it comes down to this. It’s one thing to set a bar for yourself on standards you wish to maintain in your life, but it’s another to set the bar so high that you can never enjoy what you have. The journey to getting what we want in life can be a rich one, but it starts to lose it’s luster when all you see is the ever changing destination and you don’t allow yourself to enjoy the fact that you may have already arrived.
So I’m working on that. Working on cutting myself the same slack that I cut for others who touch my life. Perfection is overrated and the quest to achieve it is exhausting, frustrating and ultimately, unattainable.
Sometimes, the kindest thing we can do for ourselves is acknowledge, that we are, in fact, enough. So much more than enough.
I don’t really like reading parenting books. Hate ‘em. I do. As a matter of fact, I would say I still have parenting book “burn out” several years after I tried unsuccessfully to do any of the following:
a. Have a panic free pregnancy after reading enough pregnancy books to know how large my unborn child was relative to fruit on any day of my pregnancy (i.e. your child is now the size of a baby kumquat).
b. Breast feed any of my children for more than four weeks after reading every single book I could find on stress-free breastfeeding. All of which stressed me out more and inversely reduced my milk supply.
c. Get my kids to sleep. I tried every strategy that The Baby Whisperer had to offer me and I tried so hard to have The Happiest Baby on the Block but the results were temporary at best and the ever present circles underneath my eyes indicated just how successful I was at employing the tactics. Although I was an awesome swaddler. I could swaddle a baby like nobody’s business.
Unfortunately, my kids are seven and five now and while I would love to still swaddle them, I think that this might be considered child abuse. Though I think that would be really cute. And handy, too, especially when they are out of line.
The thing is, if you have a friend who is an award winning parenting expert, chances are, another parenting book is going to find its way into your hands. Even if those hands are a little scared. And not ready to clutch another book full of parenting wisdom close to your already bruised parenting ego.
When Deborah’s book, “Get the Behavior You Want, Without Being the Parent You Hate” came in the mail, I admired the cover and thought to myself, “Wow, look at how great her arms look on the cover!” I smiled back at her beautiful face and oohed and aahed over the reviews on the back cover.
But it took me a few days to open it. Not because I don’t need it. I do. In our household we very consistently don’t get the behavior we want and we totally loathe ourselves as parents on some days. No, we most certainly needed it.
I wasn’t ready to take on another failure. I wasn’t ready to read another book which I would get so excited about, only to learn that while these strategies could work, they would just not work for me.
Here’s why parenting books generally don’t work for me:
a. I have no follow through.
b. No matter what I do or how I say it, the recommended advice does not get the results I want with my kids and I just end up yelling and screaming like a banshee. (Don’t do that, it never works).
c. They don’t have the same evocative plot twists as say Breaking Bad on Netflix. Because Breaking Bad will win. (Even re-runs).
So, here’s the good news about Deborah’s book. Unlike so many other parenting books, it is not overwhelming and it’s not some insurmountable tome that is painful to get through. The best way to describe reading this book? It’s like your practical older sister looking you in the eye and giving you advice about all the daunting things we face as parents. While having tea. Or maybe a glass of wine.
She’s funny and pragmatic. I think being a family physician for many years has given her a great perspective on understanding the challenges of parenting. Of course, having four boys of her own might help a little bit with her credibility too.
The book also doesn’t have to be read in one long sitting. It’s meant to be more of a roadmap for when you are navigating some difficult situations. Which is helpful, because who has time for that, yo?
I especially love the emphasis on respect throughout the book. Having respect for your children, but also teaching children self-respect by being someone who walks the walk and talks the talk. Without developing that core balance of respect between children and parents, it becomes really hard to move forward and see progress in correcting behaviors if the fundamental core of respect is not stable.
I ultimately want to raise socially conscious, respectful, smart, self-motivated children. I think this book is one of the few that touches on how to do this in a practical and attainable manner.
I now keep this book by my bedside table every night and I read a chapter or two, that pertains to what we are going through as a family and I usually glean some great advice and insight every time I do that. And by reading in small sections, I am more likely to put the lessons into action.
I wholeheartedly agree with Jill Smokler, aka Scary Mommy, who said, “Thank you, Dr. G, for giving me the only book on parenting that I don’t want to chuck out the window!”
I totally agree with Jill. Despite my parenting book burn out, this book is here to stay and I will be buying several copies for friends too. Who will probably give me dirty looks because they will assume I think they are a bad parent. But then they will read the book and forget they were ever upset with me, so it will all work out in the end.
Read more about Deborah Gilboa, MD, aka Dr. G at AskDoctorG.
My daughter lost her first tooth the other day. It was a really momentous occasion, because you only lose your first tooth once and you’ll always remember the day you got your first memento from the Tooth Fairy.
Seeing her lose her tooth made me nostalgic for my own first lost tooth. I remember that the Tooth Fairy gave me four dollars. That was a lot of freaking money for a tooth when I was 7 years old. But then after that, she really didn’t deliver, often forgetting my next few lost teeth or sometimes downgrading me to a quarter or two.
Bitch set me up for disappointment.
John wasn’t home yesterday to see Shaila’s excitement over losing her teeth and I felt sad for him because if you don’t know already, John loves teeth. His own glimmery, pearly white teeth always stand out in his smiles. He smiles all the freaking time, which I think is directly related to the fact that he is a show off and he wants people to see his teeth.
It is no coincidence that John is a model for our Dentist’s office. His face lines the walls of the office, the brochures and even the website. I guess my teeth didn’t make the grade, because I don’t remember them asking me to join John on this modeling venture.
That’s ok, when I go to the Dentist’s office, I try to do inappropriate things in front of or to his picture. In the picture below, I appear to be mounting the shot of him in the reception hall. The Doctor’s staff understands because they know he travels a lot.
My kids are neither as enthralled by their father’s teeth or about his appearance in our dentist office. Ok, maybe Shaila is a little excited. I think Nico could give a rat’s ass.
So, yeah. We’re a teeth family. I would dare to say that everybody has much better dental hygiene habits than me because John is just so darn particular about the whole twice a day thing and forces all of us to do it, while I take whatever shortcuts I can.
In fact, the kids went to bed tonight without brushing their teeth. I went in to check and they are still very much alive, in spite of my utter negligence. Regardless, I know this will throw John into a panic if he reads it.
While Shaila was living out the excitement of losing her tooth last night, I couldn’t help but remember another story about a lost tooth from none other than the man I love.
You see, when John was younger, he and his brother, Anthony, shared a room. John was a year older than Anthony and perhaps the best way to describe John in comparison to Anthony was that John was a greedy little Alex P. Keaton type character, always out to make a buck and Anthony was more of the sharing kind, always willing to share his buck. In the end, John always ended up with more of Anthony’s money than poor Anthony.
It was a matter of survival of the greediest.
One time, John lost his tooth and wanted to make sure that the Tooth Fairy didn’t accidentally give his hard earned money to Anthony, who we would probably just have to steal it from anyway. So he wrote her a note. I don’t remember all the words, but it went something like this:
“Dear Mrs. Tooth Fairy,
I have lost my tooth. I have left it under my pillow and I look forward to receiving my prize. I would appreciate if you would leave my prize under my pillow so I can find it in the morning. Thank you.
John Philip Ferrandino
P.S. I am the dark one”
My husband was so paranoid that she would give the money to the wrong brother that he had to point out that he was “the dark one.”
We have many more teeth to lose in this house and a lot more memories to make. We also have a lot of our own childhood stories to revisit like how my parents used to make me attach a string to my loose tooth and continually yank at it until it came out, all bloody and gross.
If you happen to go to Broadlands Dentistry in Ashburn, VA, look for my husband on the walls.
He will be easy to find. He is the dark one.
That’s right. My skin color falls somewhere between a cappuccino and a latte. During the summers, it can borderline hot chocolate, depending on how much time I can log under the sun.
When you’re Indian, and I imagine a lot of other ethnicities or races, there is a lot of pressure to stay on the lighter side of the spectrum. My sun loving tendencies and my thousands of hours of running cross country for years of my life often turned my vanilla latte skin into a caramel macchiato.
(Excuse me. Apparently I am thirsty and craving caffeine as I write this).
My husband’s ethnic background is half Puerto Rican and half Italian. The end result is that my lovely children have also turned out a beautiful shade of brown.
When I was a child, I didn’t ever think there was anything wrong with being brown. I just knew that I was different. Different enough that when I walked into a store with my parents or went into a restaurant with them, we were often so unwelcome that our only option was to ultimately walk out to steely eyed glances and unfriendly stares.
After a while, I did start to feel wrong.
It wasn’t just my skin color that felt wrong. After some time, it was the stuff that I thought that was so cool and special about my family that I started to realize fell somewhere on the “weird” spectrum that most of my classmates evaluated their peers on.
Let’s review the facts.
My mom wore a dot on her head.
She didn’t own a single pair of jeans. She was too busy embarrassing me with a closet full of salwar kameezes.
My parents didn’t talk like other parents in my New Jersey neighborhood. Most parents had a Brooklyn accent. My parents’ accent wasn’t even recognizable in New Delhi.
They didn’t blend. Well, they blended if they made an effort.
Just between you and me, they really didn’t make much of an effort.
I spent a lot of my childhood coincidentally being brown (funny how some traits don’t easily leave you) while being mortified of all the other things that made me different from the rest of my classmates.
I also spent my childhood extremely aware of the sacrifices and awkward adjustments my parents made to live a life in this country and to give me a better life as a result of this. On one side of this scale was the embarrassment of disenfranchisement, but tipping that scale more than not was an enormous amount of pride in who my parents were – in their own unique individuality and an appreciation for the chances their sacrifices had given me.
I know that sometimes people think that people of race have a stick up our asses. We are sometimes overly sensitive to matters of race. We can be highly suspicious of statistics that tell us repeatedly that there is something incredibly imbalanced in our justice system. When we get pulled over, and we pull down the rear view mirror to watch the approach of the officer, the thought will most likely go through our heads, “Is this in any way related to what I look like?”
Perhaps I don’t speak for every person of race when I say the above, but I know that I speak for myself.
This sensitivity combined with my own awareness that my family was not always treated the same way as other families made me angry. Perhaps as a child, I lacked the authority to do much more than accept it. But as I got older, perhaps around when I went to college, the passive acceptance stopped.
This was much to my parents’ mortification. I mean if I was the one embarrassed before, they were freaking ready to run in the opposite direction from me. And that says a lot, because they both have bad knees.
If we went to a restaurant and didn’t receive service or were ignored while other patrons were treated respectfully, you better believe I was going to have a word with the manager. Many words. They were sometimes loud and angry words.
If we walked into a store and were not given service while salespeople scurried over to less mochalicious patrons, you better believe I would pull off my best Julia Roberts’ imitation before I left. “Oh you didn’t want to help me? Big mistake. Big, BIG mistake.”
The humor of that was lost on my parents who unfortunately, have never watched Pretty Woman.
If anyone so much as looked at my parents the wrong way, I would tighten my jaw and stare those bastards into the ground with my glare of doom. Those jerks never stood a chance.
Perhaps we weren’t always the victims of racism. Perhaps we were the on the wrong end of laziness or targeting which just coincidentally seemed to be directed at only us.
I just know what I know.
I know what it is to have bricks thrown through my windows with words that say, “Go Home.” Ok, just call me E.T. then.
I know what it’s like to have people scream racial epithets at my parents in front of my own eyes when I couldn’t have been older than eight.
I know what it’s like to have the eyes of the saleswoman follow me, as she trails after me through the store, never asking if I need help, but daring me to stay any longer.
When you’re born a certain way and you have had enough encounters in your life where you are treated a certain way, you start to trust a little less.
It makes you wonder what people see when they see you. Do they see me? Or do they see my awesome mochaliciousness? I think when you are a person of race, you can never escape from the fact your ethnicity may be the first evaluating factor that people might judge or even dismiss you on.
The brown doesn’t wash away. Race will always play a role in my life, whether I want it to or not. I wish it wouldn’t, but I have accepted it.
What I have yet to accept is people who don’t understand why there needs to be a dialogue about this. I know that there will always be the ones who throw the bricks and scream the epithets, but what scares me more are the people who make excuses for those people, or worse, who choose to ignore it and the implications.
“I guarantee you that every person of color in this country has faced an indignity, from the ridiculous to the grotesque to the sometimes fatal, at some point in their…I’m going to say last couple of hours, because of their skin color. Race is there, and it is a constant. You’re tired of hearing about it? Imagine how ****ing exhausting it is living it.” – Jon Stewart
Facebook is really freaking weird sometimes, isn’t it?
I have friends who are holdouts and won’t join despite my prodding.
For one of my oldest friends, “Look, if people want to reach me, they’ll find a way. I don’t need all these random people in my life who I would never even talk to looking at my pictures.” Fair enough.
For my Dad, who deactivated his account, “Why should I join Facebook anyway? So I can go see if (fill in the blank) changed her profile picture again? She does it every damn day!” Also fair enough.
For my Mom, who doesn’t know how, “Beti, will you help teach me how to use it?” I don’t think she will be joining anytime soon.
For some friends overseas, “Twitter is so much cooler. Facebook is for old people.” Fine then. Let me get out my dentures.
I think sometimes that they might be better off than me. That must give them back a lot of time in their lives to do important things that I know I should be doing when I get distracted by Facebook.
I don’t know where I read this, or if it was just my husband telling me about it, but there have been studies done on the healthfulness of the validation that people seek on Facebook. That people somehow become addicted and physically need the likes and shares and comments (only the ones that agree with their own statuses, of course). That the validation we receive on a social network site like Facebook amplifies our own neediness for constant acceptance and approval.
I can see that. I think I have been guilty of it as well. Ok, I know I have been guilty of it as well. Whether it has been in hoping that people liked my blog posts or that people found the pictures that I put up of my family mildly pleasant, I have definitely gone back to check. Did anyone hit the ubiquitous like button? Did anyone have something interesting (i.e. complimentary) to say?
So I admit it. I’m guilty. I have looked for friends, and those loosely classified as such, to validate me, my thoughts and the images that I choose to share from my life on Facebook.
I do try to draw the line with sharing things that are happening in my life and sharing things that come off as boastful. I guess that’s kind of a subjective thing to say. It can be innocuous things that say the most. I mean, me talking about having dinner at Red Robin with my family might be a luxury to another family. I try to take some context into account when I post about things that might imply how much money we have, the successes we are encountering and the good fortune we might be blessed to have. Or perhaps that we don’t have. There are some things for sharing and there are others that just don’t need to be stated.
Lately, I feel like my Facebook news feed has gotten a little bit out of control. I feel like the details of what we might have shared in the past with only close friends and family have become open to everybody, or our universe of “friends.” Casual mentions of which 5 star hotels someone is staying at are thrown around glibly. I’ve seen a “friend” put out an open vote to ask people whether she should upgrade her Mercedes to a higher model BMW or Porsche. A different friend listed an apartment that was across the hall from her own apartment, same model, and was only going for $6,000 a month, which was quite a steal! Right guys?
I have a lot of friends who fly first class because of the industry I am in and the sheer volume of travel we do, but there are some friends who must document and share their first class journeys with pictures, reviews and images of the food they eat. I know friends who are buying new homes and have posted pictures, listed details including square footage and acreage to such extreme detail that you wonder who they are really posting this information for.
Some might say that my distaste of statuses like this are fueled by jealousy. If you know how I am wired, you would know that those are not the things that I gain joy from in my life, so you know that would be wrong. I have seen people with no material possessions in this life and I find the contrast of openly bragging about material things unpleasant and not necessarily the classiest behavior, to put it mildly.
The other night, I wrote a post on Facebook. I didn’t think it was going to raise a big fuss because it was a general rant and was not directed at any one person, but just my feelings in general about how people are taking what they share to a whole new level.
And I truly believe that – humility – it’s such a beautiful trait to have. So much prettier than what kind of car you drive or house you want to buy or the amazing, high paying job you have. At least, it looks prettier to me in my feed.
One particular person thought that this general status that I wrote was about her and wrote some sorta nasty things about me which I will not go into right now, because really, what’s the point? I guess the one thing I have to thank her for is that she is “praying for me” because I’m obviously “very miserable.”
One of the things I found interesting about her response and her conclusion that my post was directed solely towards her, was that she kept saying, “Why can’t people just be happy for me?” Why is expressing a dislike towards bragging an indication that we are not happy for someone’s success or good fortune? Please people – work hard, earn your well sought out successes, have blessed families and capture all the light in life that you can. Just remember that yeah, you can come off like an insecure jerk if you harp on all of it a little too much.
Ultimately, you can say or write whatever you want on Facebook. But it doesn’t mean people are relating to it, even if they hit “like.” Take the time to ask if what you are writing is sensitive. If ISIS goes forth with its next planned beheading, it’s not the appropriate time to list out all the current industry awards you have won and your other general awesome traits. If your neighbor is dealing with a repeatedly sick child, it may make sense to hold off on screaming from the rooftops how amazingly healthy your own children are.
If you still think I am a miserable person because I find a distaste for your bragging, that’s fine too. I will continue to find joy in my life through the things that matter and even post about them from time to time.
In good taste.
Note: In the above picture, there are a few oddities for sure. Ilya seems to think it’s the fact that he is wearing a Rush shirt with a pentagram on it. I happen to think it’s that I’m wearing blue contacts. Blue contacts, people.
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.
High school, that is.
I don’t know many people who had an idyllic High School experience. Between the awkwardness, the growth spurts, the popularity contests that could rip to shreds even some of the strongest personalities, there was so much fodder for insecurity, that I am amazed that so many young children get out on the other side with their grace still intact.
For me, High School was a time that I look back at with both love and loathing. Things at home were tough during that time and I carried the weight of that conflict into school with me each day. Amidst the standard turn of events that befell most Indian American kids who grew up in my town at that time – a fair bit of racism, too many unrequited crushes and the burden of unrealistic expectations of academic greatness being set at home, I was just glad I made it out alive. Barely.
Which makes what happened this weekend so much stranger. It was my 20th HIGH SCHOOL REUNION. I write that in caps, because it feels like something that should be in ALL CAPS. Twenty freaking years since I walked out of the walls that both cultivated me and confined me and left behind some of the personalities that both lifted me up and brought out my worst insecurities. It was about the same time I walked out of New Jersey to start my life at the University of Virginia, never realizing that I really wouldn’t be returning for longer than a few days at a time. What had been home for so long ceased to be home twenty years ago.
A part of you might wonder, did I want to go back? Did I want to maybe see some people who hadn’t always been part of the happiest memories of my life? You might be shocked to know that not only did I want to go back, but I was damn excited to go back. I was excited not to confront the worst of my memories, but the best of them. To see the faces of the people who had been there to lift me up during those hard times, whether it was through their friendship, their smiles or just because of their presence at their lockers every day. I wanted to see how everyone was doing – maybe not just the people who had been a big part of my life, but those who also had been a part of the periphery. And miracle of miracles, I also wanted to see how those who maybe hadn’t been so kind were doing.
And I wanted to embrace them all. Literally.
I was up in NY for some work last week, so I took a bus to my parents’ house in NJ where my husband planned to meet me with the kids the next day, driving up from VA. I got there on Friday and the reunion was on Saturday, so I didn’t have much time with them. Just enough to sit around the kitchen table, eating my mother’s lovingly made but oh so pungently strong, curries and sabzis.
The day of the reunion, I panicked. I texted two of my oldest friends, Danielle and Monica with the following.
“I swear to God I love my parents. And I love their cooking so much. But holy shit, I am going to walk in tonight smelling like a damn curry house.”
At least I knew that it would be just like old times though.
John made it up from NJ and we met up with some close friends before heading over to the reunion. I was overwhelmed by how genuinely happy I was to see so many people. I literally wanted to turn around and hug people every corner I turned.
“Eat something,” John told me. “You’re already two vodka sodas in. You’re gonna get trashed.”
“I will, I will!” I promised. But really, I lied. There were just too many people to see.
There were so many highlights in the night that I can’t really list them all. But probably one of the most poignant things for me was seeing my oldest friend in the world, Rajiv Singh. Now, when I say he is my oldest friend in the world, I quite mean it literally. He was my next door neighbor when I was three years old. There you have it, my first “official” friend. We were two of just a handful of Indian kids living in my town at the time and we spent a good portion of our childhood being really good friends but pretending we hated each other in front of everyone else for fear that we would be called each other’s boyfriend or girlfriend. After spending a good deal of time talking to him that night, I was so touched to see that he still is one of my favorite people in the world.
There were a few awkward moments. Nothing crazy. I called out to an old friend and gave her a hug, only to feel like I was hugging a brick wall. She really did not find any joy in seeing me and that would have made me sad except that I don’t think she found much joy in seeing anybody that night based on what I heard afterwards. So that was just a little bit strange. I also went up to another individual and wanted to shoot myself about two minutes into our conversation because he sounded like such a miserable old fart that he made Archie Bunker sound like a cheerleader. With such a limited amount of time to see so many great people, my only regret is that I spent any time at all with some who really had no joy to bring to the event.
The worst part of it all was that I still didn’t get to see everybody I wanted to see and I didn’t have long enough to catch up more. I wanted to go beyond, “How’ve you been?” with so many people there and I just didn’t have that luxury. I really don’t want to wait another ten years either.
As I was leaving, I gave one last friend, who I regrettably hadn’t had much time to catch up with, a hug. She said something that struck a chord with me.
“Well, I guess I’ll just read your blog and comment from time to time and pretend that we have any interaction other than on Facebook.”
I wasn’t quite sure what to say so I think I smiled somewhat lamely and scurried off. At first I thought she was taking a bit if a swipe at me, but in thinking about it and knowing her, I don’t think she meant it that way at all. I think it was just the bittersweet realization and acknowledgement as the night so abruptly and quickly came to a close that so many of us do lack contact beyond social media.
The reality is, that I am connected to most of the people that I saw that night through Facebook. And the ties that bound us then and the familiarity I have with them is strengthened through Facebook. I live four hours away from the epicenter of my youth. I wish life allowed for greater intimacy on a more personal level with them, but the reality is that Facebook will probably be the way I keep my pulse on their lives and them on mine. It works and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I feel fortunate that I have something to tie me back to some of these truly joyous and wonderful people of my past. As for that friend in particular, I vow to rectify the fact that I didn’t get a chance to talk to her at my next reunion (so, beware!).
So, there you have it. High school may have been some of the “worst of times,” but I am so grateful that I was able to relive the best of them on Saturday night with some of the people I have known the longest in my life.