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

Upgrades of Life. March 2018

Late last year, I upgraded my IPhone and my car; same brands, just newer versions and different models; The IPhone X is a delight to switch from my news, to texting, and then to music, and my phone battery doesn’t die; the Audi Q5 overhead sunroof, along with Audi Pre-sense, which tells me about approaching traffic, and with Appleplay, makes my morning commute more productive and long distance driving definitely more enjoyable.

Some upgrades, in accessories, are definitely good.

When you leave your birth land, to find a my new country, is that a good upgrade?

When one leaves a boss who is described as, the bear from the movie The Revenant, scratching your eyeballs out every morning, is that an upgrade?

When one moves on, from high-school friends, who don’t really understand or empathize, to build your own new community, is that an upgrade?

Our lives are full of choices; sort of “forks in the road”. I have written in the past, of being at an intersection or crossroads – with decisions to be made. Not every decision, is an upgrade. On the other hand, if one is willing to do the hard work of research, and is committed to the investment, one can choose to make that turn in the fork, an improvement.

I made a choice, some thirty years ago, to leave my loving, warm family, and move thousands of miles away, to a whole different land – and start fresh. Many of my friends stayed behind and made their lives in Bangladesh – and then others have gone to Europe or Australia. No one ever is in the position to judge, why or how someone makes that decision to leave home – and one cannot consider these decisions upgrades or downgrades – who am I to say that my life in the US is an upgrade from my friends who chose to live in Bangladesh, or, for that matter, move to Australia. What’s most important is that they are happy and content wherever they have chosen to live.

Even since moving to the US, I have lived in some 11 homes, in 8 states in 33 years. Once, my young daughter came from school and asked if we were in the witness protection program! At least twice during these times, in Denver and Fort Lauderdale, I felt that I found my home and was going to live there forever. Then life changed; an amazing career move led me to Florida, where I thought we had built permanence. Then disease struck our family and we had to make a drastic move out of Florida.

I always wanted to live in a real city, coffee shops and crazy restaurants in every corner. I wanted a walkability score of 90+, coupled with heady intellectualism. When we moved to Cambridge, we found all that and more. Museums, a vibrant cultural scene, beautiful green spaces, and access to a coastal town, Ogunquit or Provincetown, in 90 or so minutes. I meet the most curious and intriguing people here; our dinner conversations are often about Blockchain and artificial intelligence, and the number of new fusion restaurants here are beyond my count. From late April to late October, Cambridge is a wonderful place to live. However, I also crave those blue waters of Florida, palm trees and that afternoon drizzle, soothes my soul.

January 2017, on my 50th birthday, I finally decided that however many days I have, I want some Florida in my life. So, I took the plunge and decided to build something which I could eventually call my home, at least for a portion of my life. Sometimes, in life, upgrades are necessary, and then other times, you know you gave up something good, that you just want back, even if it’s for a portion of your life.

There are other decisions, that are quite easily made, even if someone makes them for you! No regrets about leaving that annoying boss who makes you cringe every day, or puts their feet up on the desk while talking to a customer in their office. No regrets about letting friends go, when they bring you down more than they lift you up – however long that friendship maybe. In my experience, work or friends, if they are not willing to listen, or be “additive” in your life – should be upgraded quickly – without regret.

After a long day of dueling decisions, argumentative employees, fighting crazy traffic, when you return home and your twelve year old asks you, what’s the highlight of your day Daddy?, and you respond, without hesitation, dinner with you, honey!… that’s when you know, that some things in life are best just the way they are, without upgrades.

Beautiful sunrise by my new home in Oakland Park. Not upgradable

The Sunrise Last at the beach by my home in Florida. Not Upgradeable.

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.

A Special Birthday Awakening: January 26 2016

Family Photo

Today is no different for the Mahmood family from the standpoint of daily activities; wake up to my morning alarm, jump into the shower, start preparation for another day of work adventure and Shania gets ready for her school: gloves, headband, cap, Kumon envelope and her backpack with her collection of button pins.

My emotions, however, are all jumbled up today; partly sad, partly confused, partly worried and tense. It’s my 49th Birthday. It should be a special day to celebrate life.

Three reasons, this is a special birthday for me:

  • Last year of my rockin’ forties started today
  • Last time I saw my #1 role model, my dad, was exactly 49; my age as of today
  • For the first time in my 49 years, the first person I met on the first day of my life, my mom, isn’t going to call me; I won’t hear that “happy birthday baba” message or song to celebrate our mutual, life-exclamation kinda event!

Text, FaceBook and Linkedin messages started pouring in, the night before, wishing me a warm and wonderful birthday.

I am grateful that hundreds of people, from five continents, thought about me on this day. Reminded by their app or not, I think it’s a nice gesture. This is the symbolic recognition, affirmation and celebration of another milestone that I woke up on the right side of grass.

I turn my phone off and start the day.

Morning meetings later, I still don’t feel celebratory. A friend invites me to lunch and we get a chance to catch up. The sun and warmth (helped by a glass of wine) brightens up the day.

In the evening, Shania and I enjoy a nice Bangladeshi dinner (from our favorite corner restaurant in Cambridge) accompanied by a nice Malbec, and some artisan crafted salted-caramel gelato (coconut based!)

As one of my routine evening events, I sit back and watch Anderson Cooper on CNN; as I am chatting with a friend, I learn of some very sad news. A friend’s daughter, in her early twenties, is in the hospital with a very difficult illness.

Electricity jars my brain; I have been so worried about myself and all the “things” that were happening or NOT happening today. I was concerned that my 49th birthday was not super celebratory!

Drowning in my self-pity, I was completely losing sight of all the things I am celebrating and mile-posting today.

First, I won grand lottery of life on this day; born to one of the most distinguished and educated couples (of their time) in Bangladesh which set in motion, for an amazing and relatively privileged life of great education, friends, travel, love and kinship that less than 1% of the world can enjoy;

Second, two amazingly loving daughters, whose world revolves around me; yes we had a tragedy in our lives five years ago – but we have all come through – healthy, happy and most importantly, together. They are my North Star and keep me focused on what’s important;

Third, a super-smart, loving sister and her family, who support me, no-questions-asked; takes care of me every day and lets me know in her gentle way that at the end of the day, we are family;

Fourth, an awesome, ‘exclamatory’ career stretching five continents, working with super-smart people, solving awesome puzzles every day, beating the competition, kicking ass, celebrating and making life-long friends along the way;

Finally, understanding and having the ability of enjoying my sources of happiness; a boat ride on water, a good glass of wine, some culinary discovery in a town square, a good cup of gelato, a delicious book, searching for lighthouses in Cape Cod, endlessly lying on a hammock (of course with a drink and a book), singing in the shower, a gentle hug from a close friend….. sipping life, one sip at a time.

Another 49 years? Why not?

What if that’s only 1 more day? It is, what it is. I have no control over that.

I am grateful.

I am grateful for the 211 Facebook messages, 43 texts and a few dozen Linkedin greetings today. Life’s not made with numbers, it’s made with moments. And I have great moments, and great memories.

I am grateful for my 49 years and can’t wait to enjoy what’s in store next.

I missed your call today, Mummy; I know wherever you are, that smile is always with me. Papa, I haven’t seen you for 30 years; but I remember the dream xylophone you brought me on my 3rd birthday, and I know you have magical presents stashed away somewhere, like you always did! At some point, somewhere, I will see you both again and celebrate the gift of my life.

In the meantime, for a few more years, I will celebrate it with Daiyaan, Shania,  Atiya and all those that have extended their hands or their love, on this beautiful earth.

Cupcake Eating Jan 2016

The Pull of Contradictions (Dotana): November 2011

It’s easy to love one thing, people, nation, religion or race; it’s a lot more difficult to
love different types of things or people, which may contradict each other.

As a child, it’s difficult to grasp the symbolism of a game of tug-of-war during a friend’s birthday. We pull, laugh and fall on the ground as the rope keeps moving in one direction or another.

On a trip back to Bangladesh, like a game of tug-of-war, I feel a tug at my heart.

The warmth and affection, from friends and family,  is addictive. When you are “visiting”,everyone loves you for these precious moments. They visit you, invite you to join them for a meal, shower you with gifts, and offer you unsolicited advice – in no particular order.

While sitting in my mother’s living room, thousands of miles away from home, I feel
the craving to play with Shania, my six-year old, in our pool or go on a sunset boat ride with Daiyaan and get a salty kiss from the Atlantic! I want to be here and there at the same time.

The classic immigrant dilemma: I want my two worlds to commingle.

At the end, though, how we sort through these contradictory urges, makes us human.

Is it, by taking the path of least resistance? Or, is it by making the most difficult path?

Many immigrants, face a trigger-decision at one point or another; give up your career goals or the interest of your children’s education, to fulfill your wish to be with and take care of an aging parent? Or – abandon the parent, to achieve your life-long goals and to ensure the future safety and security of your children?

When the heart is involved, I think it’s difficult to think about all of the options and consequences with a clear mind or perfect heart. Sometimes there is a triggering event that forces one to make a choice – a tragedy, disaster or some pinnacle event. It’s easy that way – blame it on the circumstances! “Ja hoi, bhalor jonnoi hoi (Whatever happens, happens for the best).”

Last Year, I wrote about making decisions with “No Regrets”. (https://zainmahmood.wordpress.com/decisions-with-no-regrets/)

Sorting out a dotana however, is not always that simple. There are (at least) two options to
consider.

  1. Give-in and let pre-determination, “whatever happens, happens for a reason”, take over.  Let destiny choose its course, look for divine intervention to sort out the dilemma. And pray hard.
  2. Seek an “elegant” solution that meets most of yours, and other stakeholders’ needs.

Neither path is perfect – rarely is there a guarantee of blissful happiness.

The deterministic path makes some nervous – mostly those who believe that outcomes can be managed, maneuvered.

The elegant choice path requires working hard, prioritizing, making choices and acting on those choices.

Having tried both paths, my personal inclination is to try the latter first, and if no
headway, succumb to the former! This path, if all fails, gives me the excuse, that at least, “I tried”.

In college, I knew studying Engineering was the more practical option – but passionately loved Economics as a field to study. The solution was to pursue a major in Engineering and a minor in Economics. The practical outcome-based decision overruled my heart. Clearly, that decision has served me well for twenty years!

However, not all decisions in life turn out that simple, or with a pleasant outcome.  Sometimes, one finds themselves making the decisions on which path would lead to a “lesser negative” outcome. Recently, a friend shared his personal experience of disconnecting life-support to one of his parents after many months of coma; everyone looked at him to make that decision. Even today, he wakes up in the middle of the night, crying and perspiring.

After everything is said and done, there are no perfect decisions.  As we grow older, we confront our decisions with courage and some level of moral intensity – or with a deep belief that God (or some Universal Energy) will aid and abet us in sorting out the outcome – the only choice we really have is to prepare to live with the consequences of that particular decision.

When things go haywire, we can choose to be a victim or, own up to our decision and live
the best we can, under the changed circumstances. Second guessing ourselves, “could’ve,
should’ve, would’ve, done this or that” is rarely of much use. Instead, let’s accept the new reality, learn from the experience and try to make the best, again, whenever the situation calls for it.

On a dusty Dhaka evening, outside the airport, I put my bags on a trolley, kiss my mother’s
forehead and tell her that we will see each other soon. There is lingering anxiety and questions in the air; in silence, our eyes ask each other, when will I see you again, are you going to be all-right in this alone world. I see tears in her eyes and turn away because I don’t want her to notice mine. I can hear her saying from the back, “Bhalo Thako, Baba
(Stay well).”

I wish, like that childhood party game, every tug-of-war life decision, was simple, scar-free, and didn’t involve getting hurt or hurting someone else. We could laugh, scream, pull harder and worst, fall on the ground; after the game, there was always lemonade, a nice frosted cake with ice-cream and maybe another game of hide-and-go seek.

Happiness in All Forms: Sweet Sixteen Years: May 19 2011

My Princess and I

When I think about the first day I met you, I still get goose bumps.

It was a bright Friday morning; I was fatigued from being up for more than twenty-four hours – in ardent anticipation of this arrival. There had been all sorts of stories told, questions unanswered – and sanity questioned: too early, too late; too young, too old; everyone had an opinion that you had chosen to make an arrival!

May 19 arrived and Dr. Gibbs told us that it was time.

Almost in a hurried silence, you arrived – and filled up the world with your music. The first time I heard your voice, I had tears in my eyes. When the doctor gave you to me first, I was shivering. How does one hold a minute old baby!

There were scurried nurses – running this test and the other. They wanted blood. To me, they were like Dracula sipping out little drops of red from my baby. I watched you throw your tiny arms up in protest on the weighing scale and just felt like touching those little fingers.

They didn’t let us take you home that first night – and we were worried. But over time, they bundled you up and I put you in a car seat in my little Corolla to bring you home to Merrimac Lane. We had assembled a white crib for you, and a play pen, a musical bouncy chair, lots of toys and an abundance of love strewn around in all the right places.

The first night you were home, you didn’t want to go to sleep. I remember holding you closely on my chest and letting you listen to my heart beat, as I lay down on the bed.  When you grew silent and fell asleep – I wanted to hear you breathe. That moment, I knew what it meant, to “jump through fire” for someone you love. I lay awake, for a long time, without moving – just so that I could hear you sleep.

Daiyaan's First Day at Home

You don’t know this – but even today, some nights, I walk into your room, just to hear the sound of your deep breath as you sleep. It gives me a great comfort that you are safe, and resting, that I cannot describe in words.

Sixteen years have gone by.  

I realize that I have not been there, every day or night of your life. I know that I didn’t know how to wrap a diaper when you were born. I didn’t know how to give a baby a bath – or how to make you stop crying when you wanted to see something/someone. All I have known is whatever hurt you, if I hold you close to my chest, you may stop crying and fall asleep.

I remember your Kindergarten graduation ceremony when you said that you wanted to bring all those people that don’t have homes – to our home. I watched you sing and dance on the stage – on several occasions. I loved your musical renditions in Bangla or English.

When we first traveled to Canada, or Bangladesh, or other exotic parts of the world, you have always been shy and conservative – but never reluctant. You’re not a connoisseur of great new foods or fruits. But in some ways it’s easier to settle on a Mickey D’s hamburger in Prague than it is to understand their cold mushroom soup.

Music has been our common bond. I have learned to love new music with you: Wiz Khalifa, Rihanna, Beyonce, Plain White Ts or Pink. I like hearing about your friends or their idiosyncrasies. In some ways, I realize that you give me a small window to your world through these conversations or music. Thank you for the latest song you posted on my wall: “Count On Me” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XeIJ26h_Eug.) You know you can always count on me!

When I travel to another part of the world, whenever I see a blue dress, shirt or pair of earrings – I think about you and how much you love the color blue. I can see you swimming with the dolphins in Cancun in that azure of the Mexican Riviera.

When we are out together on the boat, I see you in a different world, when the deep blue of the ocean touches us both. Your serene eyes give me a glimpse of a world that I may never fully understand.

You have grown into a beautiful young woman. Almond eyes, coffee complexion, sharp features. Some say that you look like a model. I refuse to hear that. To me, you’re that little girl that runs to me, as I enter our home from the garage on Rustic Redwood Way. You have always filled my world with joy that I never knew existed.

Thank you for a being a great daughter for sixteen years! And I look forward to (at least) the next ninety-six years, of this unadulterated happiness!

Graffiti of Life: February 2011

Shania's Latest Gift

As I get ready for work, my five-year old hands me a piece of paper with her drawings and says, “Daddy, this is for your office.” I tell her that my office is full of her gifts, drawings and stuffed toys, and I am not sure where I will find room.

She smiles and tells me, “I know; just fold it and put it in a drawer”.  

When I get to work, this new piece of art, now sits atop a bookshelf and occupies a very visible part of a collage, that makes up my life.

Some eight years ago, when my (now) fifteen-year old came to spend the day with me, she wrote me a note that’s still at my workplace, with the her favorite dolphin toy. Her handwriting has changed – and so has her expressions of feelings. But every time I see that note, I see my little girl, with cropped dark hair, smiling wide and running towards me saying “Daddeeeeee”.

Daiyaan's handwritten note when she was eight

As we grow older, our lives become intertwined with so many different emotions; in addition to the infrequent joyful moments of life, sometimes, complexity engulfs us, loneliness surrounds us, pain scratches through our pores like shreds of glass; it’s these simple messages and scribbles that bring back undiluted joy of a brighter day – of a day we remember so fondly.

Someone told me once that patients with dementia, as they lose their memories, love to walk around in circles and see photographs of their pleasant past life. I believe, we all feel the same way. Each picture, each memento, brings back a memory of the fragrances of a joyous moment or the taste of delicious life, served on the platter of time.  

Sitting at the intersection of my “mid-life”, I realize that my memory making years, with my princess, with scribbles and squabble, pitter-patter joy of everyday activities, is nearing an end.

Soon, she will grow up, in five or six years, she will prefer her friends more than her parents – will argue over spending the night at a friend’s place, and want to go to the concerts and parties, where we just can’t be part of the picture.

This happened in our lives when we were growing up. We were anxious to grow older, hang with friends, drive and leave home to define our own future. In two and a half years, my fifteen-year old, will do something very similar, leaving holidays and special occasions for us to maybe enjoy together. This sweet, yet sad departure makes us wonder, where the time went by.

Since I can’t control the passage of time, the only thing left, is to fill the time with as much of these graffiti, that I can.

I can’t wait for the next picture that Shania will gift me.

Shania's wall of art at our home