Everything Will Change In A Year: April 20, 2019

I saw a quote this morning that made me think: “Look around you, and enjoy, be grateful; in a year, everything will be different.”

Last Weekend, April 13, A beautiful day in Ogunquit, ME

As I look back a year, with or without the help of social media, so many things have changed, for me. Especially, in the lives of my children. But also, in my own life.

Last Spring, I was a pensive from the roller-coaster feeling from my constantly changing role at work; I was also in pendulum motion, from my home that I love, in Florida, to the cold of Boston. I had a feeling that this Boston chapter of my life, has to come to a close soon. And, by Fall, my role ended; allowing me to seek what I have wanted all along.

This Spring, I am ready to move to Florida, permanently.

Some things have become more certain, and other, more dispensable things, people or feelings, have dissipated. There is no lingering nostalgia about losing these feelings, which didn’t serve me.

My children have made tremendous strides in a year.

After a re-defining 2018, Daiyaan graduated college in 2018 and found her professional footing, bought her “dream” Jeep (that she has named Natasha, after the singer Natasha Bedingfeld) and now wants to buy her first home this Summer/Fall. She is starting to put down her own roots, in a place she loves. She has chosen a healthy lifestyle of balance. She took her first ever solo trip, and conquered Puerto Rico; she has grown up.

Last Spring, Shania, competed to become her Middle School Vice President and won! She has switched from softball to golf and today, loves basketball as her main school sports; instead of acting in plays, now she is co-directing, for the second year, a school play! She was accepted to attend the prestigious Dana Hall school in Wellesley, MA, but instead, is heading to be with family and joining the pre-law program at her new choice school in Florida.

As their lives unfold, and I see these two beautiful women take their next steps, I enjoy listening to their musings, and life interactions. The new friends they make, and the relationships those fray over time. I tell them my stories, from that particular time in my life that maybe relevant to their experience.

Even though I was raised as a teenager in a different continent, in a completely different era, with no electronic gadgets, or Google, to help answer my questions, the struggles of all awkward teenagers, or young people defining their dreams, are still the same.

Whether you are 13, 23 or 52, Constantly, we search for belonging, love and certainty; it’s tough to accept that none of these feelings are constant, and just to maintain an equilibrium, is a lot of work!

This morning, five of my close friends (same age group), are in deep pain: one from a broken hip (from a fall), another from domestic abuse, and one more, with cancer. Two of my best childhood friends lost their mothers in the last weeks – I knew these loving moms – I have eaten meals with them at their dining tables; having lost my own mom a few years ago, I know that big hole in their hearts are not healing soon.

I pray that my friends have the courage and support to bear the pain they are feeling today. When you experience pain, the depth, the excruciating nature of it, numbs us. There is nothing anyone can say or do, to make you feel differently.

Like last year, I know with certainty, this year, there will be those moments of joy, and sadness. You know there will be a Spring of hope, and the still of Summer.

I know, that whatever incremental, or disruptive changes we are experiencing, pain or happiness, it too shall pass.

It fatigues me to think that, the pain and frustration of the political turmoil we experience today in the US (and resultantly, the world) will only sharpen in the next twelve months.

In my adult life, I have seen and experienced progress, and I don’t give up hope, but I choose to take a long view on history. While things are not perfect, I see progress in health, well-being and innumerable sources of joy.

This weekend, in my little microcosm, I am again, taking a good look at everything and everyone around me.

Acknowledging and accepting that change is continuous and constant – I will do my best to appreciate all those gifts that I have in my life today. I am grateful to the Universe for the love, beauty, health and contentment that I am experiencing today.

I know, everything will change in a year.

Hanging out with Daiyaan and Shania @Portsmouth, NH
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I Like Where I am : February 2018

Last week, preparing for a routine colonoscopy (one of those uncomfortable things one has to experience after turning 50), in the early haze of mild anesthesia, my mind wanders. For a change, there is only a light angst, making me think, what will happen to my children, if something happens to my physical self.

The curse of a single parent, with no “back-up” parents, is that you worry incessantly, in your hypothetical absence, what will happen to your minor children. You understand that one is constantly vulnerable to changes in health or external circumstances, but that doesn’t mean you stop worrying. You buy extra life-insurance, you draw up a detailed estate plan, you have conversations with your loved ones, asking them if they will look after your children, and provide them with guidance. But there is always this lingering concern, at the back of your mind.

Moments before my last such hallucinogenic state, I remember wondering exactly what an 8 year old Shania may have done, if I somehow managed to escape during a routine check-up.

But today, Shania is a teenager, and Daiyaan is over 22 and working, paying bills and making her way through this world.

When I observe them together, fighting, arguing, doing sisterly things together – but at night, leaning on each other, when watching their favorite TV show, somehow I accept that, they will be ok, if something happens to me. It’s not going to be easy; but it’s also not impossible. I have also collected enough “together” memories, to leave them Facebook reminders, and digital moments that will spark joy, love, excitement and other emotions, that we commingle to build a life.

With this sense of relative “relief” comes a sort of satisfaction; a deep breath.

As the fog settles, the mind explores. I start imagining, what if something unexpected does happen during routine procedure. At this point, I am looking for bright spots. I think about my smiling mother.

This is the first time, since her passing a couple of years ago, I am in this state of mild cognitive disrepair and I get into an imaginary conversation with her; joking, cajoling, asking me how I have been and how the girls are doing. She asks me what I had for breakfast and if I had brought her back some “Baklava” from the US. We play cards, she makes those facial gestures or little noises, that only she could do. My father, joins us, quietly, smiling – not saying much – thirty years of silence has made him even quieter in my sub-conscious.

This entire haze-filled imaginary interaction, somehow makes me relaxed and fills my heart with an unanticipated calm and joy. To believe that, one has loved ones, on many dimensions, and that escaping from one dimension to the other, may not be as ominous as most organized religions want you to believe.

I want to live forever in my current dimension, no question. But I am also neither concerned, nor sad, about going to the other dimension(s), when that inevitability arrives. A sense of relief, and calm settles in and I float along.

The nurse asks me how I am feeling and if I am ready to put my clothes back on. Outside, in the waiting room, my guardian, Daiyaan awaits to take me home. She flew from Florida to Boston last night to accompany me back from the hospital to home. We discuss lunch, what I want to eat, and the rest of the day. For this day, our roles have reversed and she has become my parent.

On a cold, wintry day, I roll down the car window and let the happy fog of anesthesia slip out, as I take a fresh breath of air. For now, I will remain in this dimension and continue collecting memories with all these amazing, loving people around me.

Today, I like where I am.

Magic School Bus and Convertible Dreams: May 2017

As a young boy in Joypahar, I had two very special dreams; ride a yellow bus to school, and own a “Noddy” car.

I am certain, both dreams were connected with seeking some form of independence of being my own person and being on my own.

In the early 70s Bangladesh,  yellow school bus service was not available; once, in the United States, I did ride a school bus and found it to be a jarring experience; uncomfortable seats and bullying kids were much more than any form of independence than I had bargained.

(The Classic Noddy Car: Enid Blyton Series)

The Noddy Car dream is more obvious. He was my favorite childhood character idol, who did good deeds and saved the world. Just after turning 40, I did buy a convertible, that looked very much like an adult version of the Noddy open hood car. And I loved every moment of owning and driving my Noddy Car around.

Consciously or not, we are shaped by our dreams, going new places, accomplishing things, and eventually, becoming who we are.

Dreams don’t have to be spectacular, world-changing or expensive, they just have to be dreams; something you desire, or think is worthy of pursuit.

I watch friends climb the K2 or run marathons, start businesses or bands, buy island properties, give all their best to a cause they believe in; all of this, pursuing a passion, changing the world or not.

Not all dreams are perfect, nor do they need to come true.

At a very young age, I dreamed of being like my Dad; wanted to wear a tie, and a suit to go to work – and to cocktail parties in the evenings. I did accomplish that dream – but soon thereafter, found ties and dress shirts to be “choking”, and prefer to go to work in jeans and a polo.

After traveling the world, having three “dream jobs”, living in “dream homes”,  and owning “dream cars”, I ask someone recently, if I have the right to dream more. One may wonder, whether one has used up their dream quotient. But if one doesn’t have dreams, how do we move forward, if you have nothing that you crave for or look forward to?

Since my mother’s passing last year, I feel like I have become unanchored from my by birth land. I speak the language and look like them – but I don’t relate to the aspirations of my contemporaries. Except for a handful of childhood friends, and a few close family members, I don’t have the urge to assimilate to Dhaka. When I land back in the US and the immigration official says, “Welcome home, Mr. Mahmood” – I get chills.

Stepping into my fifties, I have started dreaming of anchoring again. Earlier, I have written about Anchoring in An Uncertain Sea. This Anchoring has a different feel to it.

Interesting, that the young boy, who once craved independence in a school bus or a convertible, now seeks his own tether.

Today, I crave that opportunity to launch a kayak for lunch towards that café down river, and to live close to loved ones, who accept me as family, and are there when dark clouds of difficulty surround me.

Being part of a bigger whole, seems to make more sense now.

(My future kayak launch: photo courtesy Toby Blades)

Recently, I have also been gifted the opportunity to write, what I want my Chapter Three to be. The children are grown up, and I am still healthy, and in an emotionally open place to carve out what I want to do for the third quarter of my life.

Some say, start your own business, or do something truly philanthropic, or get into CEO coaching (because your’e so good at it!)

I know whatever I step into, the most important thing is that, I will have fun along the way.

I thrive in collaboration, versus confrontation. I am most present, when there is creativity and “puzzle-problem-solving” involved. I have twenty-five years of experience in a variety of environments that are worth sharing to do something meaningful. I know, that new opportunity/dream will emerge when the time is right.  Dreams are neither pushed, nor pulled.

I don’t want to ride a school bus, I want to get my (mental) convertible back.

In the meantime, the kayak awaits, the water beckons; let me feel the gentle breeze on my face, the sun on my back, the sound of the water slurping all around me.

This is good, for now.

When Happiness Just Shows Up, Without Notice: May 2014

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This week I had a series of text conversations with my nineteen-year-old, over happiness.

On Monday, she texts me, saying, “Daddy, I don’t know what really makes me happy; I am kind of always satisfied; that’s not right! ” I advise her that this is normal and she will know when she is truly happy.

On Friday, I get a note from her that her roommate just spontaneously invited her to go to Key West and since she had no classes that day, and had the day off from work, they were leaving for Key West within the hour; later in the afternoon, she texts me to let me know how happy she is suddenly, to get away, enjoy the blue sea, not have anything to worry about.

I sit back and think about our Tuesday conversation and text her back asking if she realized that happiness, just shows up sometime, like this, without any notice!

Throughout the afternoon, I get a series of IPhone pictures of her feet hanging on blue waters, selfies, the blue ocean, the amazing sunset; just by the tone of her texts, I can tell that my princess is happy for these few moments.

A couple of years ago, I wrote something about Designing Your Own Happiness; where, I talked about doing exactly what makes me happy on my birthday.

When you sit back and think about all the things that really make us happy, and wonder how much of it comes spontaneously, accidentally – and how much of it can really be crafted for execution.

There is a marked difference between things that make you unhappy and those that make you happy. I think it’s important to distinguish that it’s not a linear equation – in fact if you visualize it, most likely on a completely different plain.

If you choose to do the reverse of what makes you unhappy, somehow are not going to necessarily be happy.

So, as example, eating chocolate me happy; and I also know that when my kids are hurting, that makes me unhappy.

But eating no cake will not necessarily make me unhappy – and if my kids are just all “well” doesn’t necessarily make me rejoice with happiness (it’s kind of my basic expectation!)

If you accept this premise that happiness comes from a different plain than the sources of our unhappiness – It becomes a lot easier to “craft” or plan for happiness!

I believe, the first thing to do, is to understand those independent sources of happiness within us.

I notice that I become joyful, when I hear an old favorite song suddenly play on the radio; I become super happy, to run into a friend at the supermarket. These spontaneous sources of happiness, teaches me that I like spontaneity in my life. That makes me happy.

Now, one of my children, on the other hand, is petrified by spontaneity and resists everything new I propose to her. So, it’s important to recognize that spontaneity may not be everyone’s source of happiness.

Occasionally, it’s nice to sit back and think what are 5 things that made YOU happy, over the last 2 months: make a short mental list. Try to replicate that again, sometime over the next few weeks. See what happens.

Today, on this beautiful sunny Saturday morning,  spontaneously, we invite a couple of friends we like to hang with, to come swim with us at the pool and bring something to grill and just catch up on life. Of course, over a bit of wine!

I think, that will make me happy! Will keep you posted.

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You Can Always Come Home: August 13 2013

Daiyaan at Four

Her crumpled wet towel doesn’t litter the room; her unwashed dishes don’t sit in the sink waiting to be taken care of; the pair of bejeweled flip-flops don’t stand lazily by the front door; for several years, these were some chronic complaints I had, about my teenager.

I whined about, why she just doesn’t like to eat breakfast at home (egg sandwiches at the diner) and rarely adventures outside of her food domain of pizza rolls, hamburgers, sushi, Thai and maybe a bit of pasta without the marinara sauce.  Salads, not really!

About two weeks ago my eighteen-year old first-born, moved out to her new condo, about 25 minutes away in Boca Raton, in anticipation of starting the next step of her life: College/University.

She moved into a spacious unit overlooking a small canal and has her private room with a hallway and bath/shower and a large walk-in closet. She shares a large kitchen, dinette and living space with her new roomie Sarah, already a sophomore in college.

She is learning to spread her wings; learning to live independently – do her own laundry, and change her own sheets. While, in our little home, with the three of us, may have been cramped with her, now feels empty, as if, someone has sucked the wind out.

Some 28 years ago, I left my family home, and migrated a few thousand miles, where I didn’t get to see my family for more than 30 months! I was also spreading my own wings and building my own universe. I missed my family, but rarely looked back. I was conquering a new world altogether.

Today, as my nest empties out, I feel sad, nostalgic, remorseful and yet happy and anxious – all at the same time. I never knew that these feelings could be so contradictory at the same moment.

My morning starts with a text, “Good Morning Daddy, Whatya doing?” and the series continues throughout the day. I learn about the new job she has secured for herself, or what classes she has signed up for, or how sad she is that her BFF friend Markie is moving away to college.

I try to call and listen to her voice at least once a day; once a week, we have dinner or breakfast together and see each other face-to-face. Sometimes, if she is in the area, she will stop by and spend the night in her old room.

When I go into the room at night to kiss the girls good night, and hear two sets of deep breathing, it gives me a certain comfort, and false sense of security – that is hard to explain. I sit on the floor and just listen to that deep breathing for a few minutes.

Tomorrow morning, she will get into her grey Honda Civic and drive off on her own, to her doctor’s appointment or some other errand. All she will leave behind is that short few hours of memory that she was here, and I held her, for as long as I could, until she was truly ready to fly.

Someone once told me,  once you leave home, you can never go back – because you are not the same, and the home is not the same either.

For those of my friends, who have young children, all I say, let those dirty dishes lie in the sink for a few more minutes; take your time, sit next to them, listen to them, smile and hug them a lot. Let them build their own space, on their own time.

Let them know that wherever they go, they can always come back home.

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Instruction Manuals for Children : February 7, 2013

I wonder, like new gadgets, why there aren’t instruction manuals for parents to figure out the whims and vagaries of their new-born or growing children. Originating from the same genetic pool, how two children can be so different from each other, and have completely unique personalities!

One of them may sit next to you and finish her homework five days ahead of schedule – and the other one, not want to even start her science project until the night before it is due. One maybe fascinated by pets – another, allergic to everything; one can’t wait to get on my boat and sail away for days – while the other one holds on to my t-shirt – the entire journey!

Daiyaan and Shania 5 years ago!
Daiyaan and Shania 5 years ago!

When my first born came to this world, I had no way to prepare myself. There were lots of What to Expect in Baby’s First Year type of books but very little practical advice about your baby’s temperament or why she wouldn’t sleep the first night she arrived home!

I had no clue how to put this baby to sleep; after a few hours of trying to sing, generating hair-dryer or vacuum cleaner sounds (these are days before the noisemaker app on your IPod) and trying multiple motions, failing to soothe the baby, finally I placed her ear on my chest and allowed her to connect with my heart beat and warmth; she was out like a light bulb! I lay there, in that same position, for hours, afraid that any movement on my part would wake my baby up.

I remember my mother always bemoaning to her friends, “Baccha Manush Kora Khub Kothin” (It’s so very tough to raise kids); I wonder why my mom would say that it’s tough to raise children during her times. In our luxurious childhood at Joypahar, we had a nanny and also had a seven other help in the house; I don’t remember my parents ever needing to coordinate a babysitter; uncles and aunts visited us frequently and we had a wonderful support system protecting us. In those pre micro-chip days, we were not exposed to the demands of video-games, Twitter, Instragram or FaceBook. I don’t remember my Dad ever have to wonder if the length of his teen-agers’s skirt is appropriate for a birthday party!

Being blessed with two beautiful daughters, I sometimes wonder, what life would be like with more children. I watch parents, and their delight, when their older children return home for the holidays. They make their children’s favorite dishes and look forward to doing those common things that they may have done together, like a round of golf – or going to the spa – or baking together, or in the case of my mother, playing Scrabble or just arguing over political views!

If I regret about my personal circumstances, it’s that we didn’t have another child, in-between my two princesses. While I am grateful for what has been gifted, It would have been fabulous to have another daughter (or son for that matter) !

It has been a pleasure watching my children grow-up and take on their own personalities. Recently, Shania, my seven-year old rolled off my grocery-list from memory!  I don’t need to write anything down any more.  When she goes for a school –entrance interview, I watch her eyes sparkling with inquisitive possibilities.

In my recent role as a single-dad, my beliefs have been re-affirmed that, children are the most important and enjoyable occurance in life – for the period that they live with us. I have learned more acutely how important is stability, re-assurance and a safe place for them, to come back to.

Shania is just as happy with a project she can complete with me – versus a super-expensive gift! Daiyaan, my seventeen-year old, just wants to share her daily experiences – without my judgment or commentary! She watches my eyebrow curve up and smiles and gets the message that that part of the information may just be just TMI (too much information)!

When I go out for the evening, I love it when my daughters approve my attire or tell me to change my shirt! I love the simple rituals we have developed; as I cook dinner, and the children are completing their homework – or when we quickly step out to the balcony to observe a spectacular sunset and wish the day goodbye.

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At night, when we read stories in bed, or say a quick prayer before closing our eyes, all of it becomes real;

It is the true joy in the discovery, of what we love about our unique and amazing children – without the instruction manuals!

Thank you God, for not sending instruction manuals with the children!

Rainbow Days and Sparkling Green Bows

Shania’s Sparkling Green Bow

There’s a sparkling green bow hair-clip on my kitchen counter-top; silently, it reminds of the day Shania and I found it in a boutique at Coco-Walk in Miami. I remember, Shania quickly put it on her hair and did a twirl !

Every time Shania is gone for a few days, I see this green sparkly bow, or her little flowery slippers, the stuffed toys on my bed, or her plastic juice glasses, that remind me of her big, beautiful smile – and her all-encompassing hug.

Next year, my seventeen-year old, Daiyaan, is likely to head off to college. While preparing for this inevitability, I cannot imagine when Shania (7) will move away from home!

Several of my friends have recently started experiencing their children leaving homes and heading off to college. This “withdrawal”, when a child is not physically present in your home any more, is a tough physical and mental experience to deal with, wherever you may be located.

Sometimes, I wonder how my mother dealt with this emptiness, the day I left home. With extended family and friends surrounding her, I wonder, if it was any easier or more difficult to cope with.

Last weekend, I talked to my sister, whose only child left for college recently, creating an empty-nest for them. She described how, the large glasses he drank milk from, sit on the shelves unused, and how the dinner that’s saved for him, goes un-eaten and thrown away. There’s no longer a reason to rush back home in the evening – or a need to check-in and see how the day was, with a third person in the house.

First generation immigrants, sometimes, have a slightly varied perspective when a child leaves their home, to build her own life; often, they view their children as manifestation of all their hopes and as a fruit of all of their immigration “struggles.”

The complicated nature of immigration, makes it difficult to question the fairness of this burden on our children. However, I know many, in our minds, feel a special link with our children who were not born in the same land as we were. There is an expectation that, by osmosis, these children understand our struggle and often, the culture or religion we left behind.

Even if our children are completely “westernized”, they empathize with our habits of drinking milky-sugary tea in the morning; or often converse with us in their accented version of our native language. Somehow, they “get us”; they tolerate our listening to high-pitched music in the car; when we pray in one direction or another – sometimes, they take part with us, or at least don’t look at us with complete incredulity.

As if, they are our bridge to this new land, and a bridge to all our future aspirations.

When this “bridge” moves away, there maybe an emptiness in our lives that’s not easily explainable.

I know families, when their children moved away to build their lives, eventually, the parents followed them to far flung places. In some ways, their immigration continued, from little towns of Nebraska or New Mexico where they started their journey, to some new destination like New York or Nevada.

Jhumpa Lahiri captured this nuanced expectation on immigrant’s children in her masterpiece The Namesake.

On this Saturday morning, I await Shania to wake up from her sleep and snuggle with me for a few more minutes and watch cartoons together. While Daiyaan may leave next year, creating her own vacuum, for a few more years, I want to continue to build memories with my other “bridge”.  We will go to some new store, where we will buy our sparkly hair clips, enjoy a DreamWorks movie, or simply admire a beautiful rainbow together, after the rain.

Shania with her Green Sparkling Bow!