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.

Different Flavors, Different Stripes: December 2014

With My two unique daughters Oct 2014
With My two unique daughters Oct 2014

Vanilla, Chocolate, Maple, Blueberry – No Strawberry.

I get clear instructions from a nine-year old, for the types of yogurt to buy at Whole Foods, as I drop her off at school in the morning. She is very specific, very clear about what she wants and cares for. She texts me these flavors so that, by mistake, I don’t bring one that she will be responsible for eating.

I faintly remember being a nine-year-old, many years ago; also, I have raised another child, but don’t remember this level of clarity of desires in either case.

Some parents may find this level of specificity as being “picky” and listening to all this as “accommodation”. I consider it as discerning – she just knows what she likes and goes for it, unabashed.

My other child, is conservative about food choices and pretty much stuck to the same menu year after year; as a child, she had a creamy Korma style rice-chicken combination every night – didn’t like much variation. I remember, when Daiyaan was about 9, walking 5 blocks in Prague, to find her a McDonald’s because she didn’t want to try Czech food. So we got her a hamburger before going to a nice gourmet restaurant for a wonderful Czech meal.

Nine-year old Shania, on the other hand, knows the difference between Nigiri and other Sushi – enjoys the layered texture of Lamb – and smiles bright when scallops are sautéed and served with a light drizzle of an unusual chutney. Shania is very specific about her choice of steak and how it needs to be cooked. She even comes up with unique recipes when we do get the opportunity to cook.

I have always wondered why and how, siblings from the same set of parents, are so different.

I remember that my sister and I have always been quite different in some ways and then we have a lot in common in tastes, and habits and idiosyncrasies; maybe I can’t see the contrast that well.

However, watching Daiyaan and Shania’s differences in mannerisms, attitudes and tastes makes this the most intriguing and amazing study in my life.

They each have to be dealt with differently and, of course, their needs have to be met with different sources of inspirations. One of them has to be cajoled to do her homework or finish her papers on-time; the other one,  makes sure she finishes her projects 2 days early and looks for extra-credit opportunities.

I often find parents complaining about these individual habits or natural tendencies. I find them amusing and worthy of learning from.

Sometimes I wonder, if these two girls would be only a couple of years apart (versus 10 years in reality) would I be able to see their differences this clearly; would I have been able to understand their individual needs and be able to meet some of them with such freedom.

Being a Dad teaches me a lot about being a leader. At work, I find different team members with different styles and world-values; the ability to find common goals through those values, and raising the collective aspirations, is the essence of leadership.

As my plane gets ready to land, Shania asks me if we can go for Steel City Pops for Popsicles tonight… a very specific request, for a very unique, locally made, frozen dessert. She then outlines for me, our activities for the day and how this particular frozen dessert hunt can be accommodated in our action-packed Saturday.

The schedule even has a nap for me in the afternoon.

Sometimes, I wonder who the parent is, in this relationship.

Darkness, Dogma and Everything Else: The Fears of Parents

When I was a teenager, my mother had an absurd rule; I had to return home before sundown. You could leave in the next hour and be out late – but you have to be home at sundown!

I always wondered what was her fear – was it the darkness of the night, or some sort of superstition of the Jinn? Or is it just a lack of spatial awareness in the dark.

This week, for the first time, Daiyaan, my almost eighteen-year old, is off on her own – far away in a foreign land. On the first evening, I sit on the balcony of my high-rise condominium and feel like crying as I watch the sunset. I wonder how she is doing, is she safe, did she eat her meals properly. Now, I know how my mother must have felt, when I first didn’t return after leaving home.

Such is the nature of parenting and a parent’s inner fears.

Some fears are inherent in us – unique to us – while some have been passed to us from generation to generation. As we grow older, our fears get embedded in us and we try to implant these in our children.

My father had some fear about children having their hair wet. Even in my teens, he would come out with a towel trying to dry my hair, just a bit more. He was convinced that we could catch a cold, if our hair was wet! This habit now has passed on to me and I keep running after Shania, comically, drying her hair after she comes out of the shower.

All irrational, unexplainable fears – but also part and parcel of who we are and what we have become!

Don’t go out after dark!

Don’t eat (bone-in) fish at night!

No Bananas to be eaten at night!

Don’t draw attention to yourself!!

Don’t enjoy life too much, and, if you choose to, don’t put it on your Facebook profile for others to see!!

We grow up with all sorts of dogma – all sorts of fear; often that fear takes over our day-to-day activities.

Once, some twenty-two years ago, driving through the New Mexico desert, as the sun was setting, in all its glory, I heard my mother weep at the back of the car; I couldn’t quite understand why this super-strong Principal of a High School was crying in this beautiful setting. I didn’t understand her fear of the dark – nor did I realize that it was something that was embedded in her, most likely at childhood.

Today, my fears are around my children – and them possibly getting hurt. I know there is just not enough time in the day, nor moments of sheer lucidity, to simultaneously keep track of every movement of a teenager, on a foreign trip – or a eight-year old who is just learning to spread her wings.

I think, the only thing a parent can do, is try their best.

Since we have very limited capabilities, the goal is to give them those values and decision frameworks that allow them to make the right choices to avoid a dangerous path – or try to make a decision to not associate with all that’s evil around us. Some of us try to give them everything we have (and sometimes what we never had); once we have given them our best, we just have to learn to take a deep breath and sigh.

The children have to make their own mistakes; take their own “road less traveled”.

The best we can do is not to install our dogmas and fears in their lives. Allow them to live on this beautiful earth – sampling everything with the fearless abandon of life.

Shania gets ready to go to bed; she reads her book for twenty minutes, says her prayer, clutches her stuffed toy and turns towards her pillow. I kiss her forehead and say a silent prayer so that she gets a restful night of sleep. That’s all you can really do. You can’t be there watching over them – or give her all your fears and dogmas. She deserves her own fears and her own new dreams!

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!

Does God Live Here: August 2011

Does God live up in the sky, amongst the clouds?

As the 767 soars above the sky, my six-year old lifts the window shade looking at the amazing blue around us, with puffs of white clouds scattered like cotton from an old pillow. She looks at me joyfully and asks, “Does God Live Here, Daddy?“

When you are a child, you are likely to believe many a story about the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus or even or where “heaven” is ~ thereby having a distinct impression of where God’s “home” is.  As time passes, and we experience discrete pain, or disappointment – we question many of these beliefs, and come to our own conclusions about the mysteries of the Wishing Well.

As my children grow up, I watch their innocence being washed away, layer by layer – through experiences they have – or, just by watching TV or listening to a friend. Recently, my sixteen-year old asked me if I knew the meaning of Rihanna’s song “S&M”.

As I was growing up, in the black & white TV days in Bangladesh, the world used to be quiet simple. We watched The Saint, Hawaii Five-O, or Star Trek – the bad guys always looked ugly, the good guys looked like they were personally chiseled by God. There was a defined “good” and a “bad” – the world always ended up safe because some valiant person invariably, saved the world. We always went to bed knowing that tomorrow, the world would be safe – because of our parents and all the other good guys, who would ensure that the sun comes up safely and the sky remains blue.

As one grows older, and becomes a parent – and learns that we have to save the world now, and keep it safe every day – it’s quite a responsibility! Every night, I make sure I lock the doors, turn off the outdoor lights – turn on the alarm and go to bed worrying about burglars.

Recently, during a personal crisis, I talk to a therapist about worrying that I am taking many actions on behalf of my children that, I am concerned, may not always be taking the “right” steps. She eloquently tells me, “children don’t come with instruction manuals” and that, I just have to trust my best judgement!

It’s so much easier to make a multi-million dollar decision at work – with Six Sigma data, facts and factoids – advisors and confidants. You look at the rational outcome possibilities – pick the least risky option and wham , a decision is made!

When it comes to life, and your children – you intuitively try your best to make the right decision every time. You try to locate  a home in a good neighborhood so that they have good friends; you try to find the right schools for them; you try to take the right memorable vacations,  that combine both fun and learning.

But at the end, you really don’t know the cumulative outcome, of all those micro decisions. The mysteries of the world have influences on them and even your own complicated, decision-making process. Sometimes, horrible tragedies (like an accident or a disease) overcome us; worldly incidences like job loss, alcoholism or addiction, hinder our thinking process.

At the end of every day, after we have saved the world (the best we can), we come home, jump in the pool, splash around with alligators and mermaids, buy make-belief hamburgers from the make-belief snack-stand, and hope that wherever God lives, she keeps our children safe and healthy. We wish for their eternal happiness – just like our parents did for us.

My dear Shania, I believe, God lives all around us and within us. Wherever she lives, I know God will protect you, even when I am not there.

Crimes of Parents: December 2010

My wife asks me to pick up our fifteen-year old from a football game on a Friday night. When I arrive, my antenna goes up and I am terrified to think about her security in this dark neighborhood. When she comes into the car, I scream at her that she should not be in such a neighborhood. She is (now) forbidden to cross I-95 without us going with her. She looks at me perplexed; “but, this is one of the best schools in town” she says, “I get extra credit for going to these games”.

I let her know that I just don’t care. 

When I look at her, she maybe all tall and grown up, using slang, carrying on full-length, semi-adult conversations, but to me, she is still that little girl I carried back from the hospital.

I cannot get over the fact, just a few years ago, I held her the first time, at Toledo Hospital, where the doctor slapped her face to make her cry; I felt the pain, when the nurse pricked her feet to test her blood. The first afternoon, when I let her tiny 19” body sleep on my chest, I felt what people meant, when they said that they could “jump through fire” for someone. Since then, with all my energy, I have felt the need to protect her.

Recently, my mother reminds me, of an incidence some 27 years ago.

One evening, I fought with my dad, about our cassette player, and in utter anguish, left home. I didn’t go to my best friends’ place down the street, knowing that that’s where everyone would look for me. I just walked the streets of Dhaka all night and didn’t come home till the early morning. 

At home, I found my Mom, asleep on her prayer rug. She had searched everywhere she could think of and surrendered to God. I was exhausted and hungry; she saw me, made me some eggs, paratha (bread) and hot tea.  I ate in silence and went to bed.

This is what parents do. Their crime is: they worry about their kids. They worry about health, happiness – how the world treats us and how we treat the world.

Every time my fifteen-year old travels somewhere, I worry about her safety. Sometimes, she has the IPod blaring in her ears and does not hear the sounds of cars. Will she pay attention to the road? I wonder about her stepping in with wrong friends and getting hurt.

I know, I have to let her go.

She is like a young bird with new wings. She wants to go and hang out with her own friends. But the parent inside me, just cannot stop the worries.

In less than three years, she maybe in another town, starting college, with new friends in a new environment. Will she make it to class on time? Will she remember to have her breakfast? Carry snacks around with herself for when she is hungry? I know that there are million other serious things to think about. But having enough food around her, overtakes my worries. When I go grocery shopping, my first concern is always to make sure that I have enough snacks for the two kids.

Recently, a friend had a beautiful, new baby girl. My wish for them: let them have the sobriety of patience with a worry-resistant mindset. These worries really don’t have a sound basis.

Children will make their mistakes and learn from them. They will have to get hurt and build their own cocoons. As parents, one can only pray that whatever the children do, wherever they end up, they have the semblance of happiness in this complicated world.

The rewards of being a parent overwhelms the punishment of this constant worry that lingers in your mind, from the day they are born – till maybe as long as you are capable of worrying. The crimes of parents are tough.