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.

Turning Back Time : October 2016

I woke up from a disturbing dream, and felt sad to the core of my heart. The dream was sweet and nostalgic; I was listening to my mother as she was talking about the good old days, when we lived in Joypahar. We were playing Uno, over a cup of milky Cha, a few Nabisco biscuits, and talking up a storm.

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Playing Uno with Mummy, Denver 2003

Within my dream, I realized, I was in the midst of a dream, and that soon I would wake up and the moment would be over. I tried to tell my Mom, but the moment was so joyous, that I couldn’t bring myself to reveal what I already knew as the truth.

I wanted us to remain happy, just like that moment, just with that cup of milky cha, over that game of cards, raising “gopshop” to a whole different level.

I am certain, we all have those moments, where everything just feels right;  the lighting is right, the temperature, the mood, the music, and most importantly, the people you love, and care about. These are precious times, times to cherish, sip like a good wine – just before you know that these come to an end.

Recently, my Aunt and Uncle came to visit us from Dhaka, for a weekend. We sipped a wonderful cup of latte while walking around Harvard Square, on a sunny fall morning;   took a swan boat tour on the Boston Commons lake, and discovered the magic of bonsai at the Harvard Arboretum.

harvard-square
Hanging with out with my favorite Aunt and Uncle, Rita and Aziz, Sep 2016

I had that same feeling; I knew these few days are precious – and we took it all in the best possible Bangalee way – food, music, adda! I am grateful for these three days I got with these two wonderful people, who make me happy, every time I see them.

Over the last thirty years, as I have left religion, something else has been on my mind about these joyous moments, old and new.

Major world religions talk about the gift of reincarnation or afterlife. So therein lies this possibility of heaven (and hell). There is a small chance, they remind us, of meeting those people we love, in life after death.

However, in my non-religious views, and the lack of confidence in heavenly interactions, I feel deeply saddened by the fact that I will never, ever see my mother again – not in this lifetime, or another. She will never remind me to walk straight, or eat slowly, or ask me about how we are doing; what I had with her, is done.

Deep breath.

I know I cannot wind back time.

But another really conflicting thought enters my consciousness. I am thinking of my beautiful daughters, my sister, or Matthew – those that surround me with love today.

Cupcake Eating Jan 2016
Harvard Square, Jan 2016

Every night when I kiss Shania goodnight on her forehead – or when Daiyaan is visiting us and we have samosas together, while arguing about this or that, these moments are also limited and they too shall come to an end.

After this life, I will not see any of these loved ones again. This churns me inside and out.  Suddenly every second feels so much more precious. There is so much beauty on this earth – and I have so much to be thankful for – that I really don’t want this life to end.

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One of those perfect moments, with Shania and Atiya, Summer 2016

 I realize that every moment is precious with our loved ones. This time cannot be repeated – and it cannot be reincarnated. It is, what it is; it is all about NOW. And I have only responsibility – to make it as joyous, for myself and for them.

It’s a cloudy, drizzly Sunday here in Cambridge. Shania has a sinus thing going this weekend. We decide to stay in and just chill around the house. We have left-over Italian and watch a Disney movie together. We toast some samosas, and make hot tea, to keep us company.

At the end of the movie, Shania thanks me, for being lazy today and just hanging out with her. I am grateful to her, for reminding me, at this moment, at this point of completeness.

Not looking back, not winding back time, not even looking forward. Just Now.

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Daiyaan and I on Marco Island, 2003

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.

The Apple Tree Conundrum

“There may have been a strong wind blowing the day the apple fell from the tree” was the quote I heard on a sitcom recently.

Everyone thinks they are very different from their parents. Some try their best to be different from their parents. Can one really be that different, even if they live in different continents or in completely juxtaposed opposite lives?

It always amazes me to think how different (and alike) we are from our parents (and children) and where these similarities start or end.

Recently I was reminded of an incidence in my seventh/eighth grade. I was sad the day my mom told me to stop associating with a new friend because he came from a “different” type of family. In the mid 70s/80s in Bangladesh, we were the limited income families and my new friend’s parents came from a “baniya” (business) background and had more of a freewheeling (money spending) lifestyle. My mother explained that they had very different “values” and I couldn’t be friends with him no more!

It seems bizarre in today’s context, but I lost my friend and since then, have not re-connected with him.

Recently, we told our teenager to stop mixing with one of her friends because we found her parents to be obnoxious and rude (from many different, unexplained dimensions). I know it sounds weird, but the question remains: can the apple really fall that far from the tree?

The ultimate debate of “nature” vs. “nurture” rages on in academia, but what my mother did some thirty years ago and what we are trying to do, today, are ironically not that different. Sometimes misguided, (but mostly on mark,) parental instincts, always drive us to try and protect our children from harm and heartbreak. We have this inner confidence that, having been through our own experiences, we now have much more wisdom (!) to pass our learning to our naïve children.

Sometimes I wonder, had I remained friends with that lanky kid in Dhaka, would I have turned up, somehow, a different person? Many of my parents friends’ children, coming from these “middle/limited income families” made ostentatiously egregious life-choices and didn’t turn out any better/worse.

I realize that not all families have similar biases. In today’s day/age, a blacksmiths son doesn’t necessarily have to become a blacksmith. Men and women our age are charting completely different courses of lives from their parents (and ancestry). I also don’t (in my mind) believe that a seriel killer’s son has to be a seriel killer.

We talk the large egalitarian dream of being completely unbiased and nonchalant about the environment and its surroundings. We parrot large, classically American phrases: Fairness, Equality, Justice!

But in the prisms of our heart, we hold that darkness (or maybe it’s light), that causes us to think of lurking danger when we see an alcoholic or an abusive parent and tell our daughters to stay away from their sons.

My heart wishes to be more egalitarian; I wish I could tell my teenage daughter to be just open her arms to all who enter her life; but I have not been able to reconcile between what my mind thinks and how my heart feels.

My frailty is that I love her too much and I just cannot watch her getting hurt. Even living in a different continent, like my parents, I superimpose my biases on her every day, with the associations I choose and the values I chastise.

In my mind, I know, that this maybe a complete mistake. But, in my heart, my child’s protection becomes my ultimate priority.

After all, now, that I feel that my tree has a purpose of its own, when my apple lands on the ground, I want no bruises (and I don’t want the wind to blow too strongly either).

At the end of the day, my identity has evolved: from a liberal educated man to a careful, protective parent.

Toothpaste and Tea Stories

My dad with my sister and I (1968)It’s still warm in South Florida. The pool water is in mid 80s; after a two hour long swim with my mermaid, I take her for a shower in the cabana. After she comes out of the shower, I feel this compulsion to dry her hair thoroughly.

My Dad used to be a compulsive hair-dryer for me when I came out of the shower and didn’t feel the need to towel my hair (yes, one day I did have hair!). It’s amazing the things you pick up from your parents or you see them do, and feel compelled to do to your children.

After shower, we enjoy some wonderful spinach samosa, veggie egg rolls and orange juice; Shania and I devour to our hearts content. It’s almost 2 pm and now it’s time for our Saturday afternoon nap; I will open a story book and we will travel the land of princesses, green fairies or tulips that hold little people. I love reading stories to my princess and watching the amazement in her eyes when suddenly the dragon of my story explodes into a hundred little dragons and take over the empire! No worries, the brave prince and his lion side-ling always wins the day with their courage and audacity and rescue the princess! I will massage her forehead until her eyes close and her face fills with a glow that you notice only when she is asleep.

I remember the times my mom lulled me to sleep in Joypahar in the afternoons with some such story in hardcover books; my father was also a wonderful storyteller. He would also massage my head and make me fall asleep instantly. He was so good that one of my sister’s friends wanted to exchange her dad with ours. We were a bit appalled by the suggestion, because it came with promises for additional goodies.

Our children are fortunate for all the material things we surround them with; however, we were fortunate for the love, warmth and security that surrounded us in our early days in Joypahar, Dhanmondi or Poribagh. The world was such a beautiful place, where no war, famine or treachery could touch us…because our parents were there – always protecting us – always shielding us from the world.

Somehow, time passes, and we recognize that we are not young princes or princesses anymore; reality of scorched earth, unfulfilled expectations, prejudice and tragedy compels us to change our world view. No one protects us from our nightmares or the stark reality of the world around us.

Sometimes, I sit gazing at the blue thinking what I would do, if I could spend a few hours with my Dad again.

I would ask him about his childhood, youth, decisions in life; how he made this transition from youth to adulthood; how he felt when he first arrived in the US in the late 1950s or whether he trembled like I did when I held my first born. I would like for him to meet my princesses and Wasima.

When you have a parent around, you take them for granted; it’s not always easy to appreciate their love, protection and care for us.

Recently, one of my friend’s dad passed; another friends mom is going for very serious brain surgery this week. I realize their generation is starting to fade away. I know it is the “cycle of life” and this will happen to us in a few years (if we are lucky).

But for a few more years, I would like to protect my princesses from this unscripted reality; if I am permitted, I would love for them to go through college without this worry of paying bills and dealing with the daily stress of making difficult choices. Their innocence and incongruence with this harsh reality of our daily lives makes me feel like I have a greater purpose, to protect them and answer their questions. I realize, it’s naïve to try and protect, but, I just love it when Shania asks me what kind of toothpaste do mermaids use!

In a few weeks, I hope to see my mother after a year. We will share good stories, great food and some wonderful memories. We will fight about innocuous and irrelevant issues like President Obama’s healthcare mandate, because, that’s the fun of a parent-child interaction – arguing about irrelevant issues. I know I cannot hold her forever either; but I want to spend this time, enjoy the creamy/sugary tea with Horlicks biscuits (cookies), for as long as I can.

Let’s cherish these toothpaste and tea stories… all wonderful times, in our short journey through this beautiful world.