There is a reason parenting books or at least some that I have read advocate against labeling kids. These labels could be seemingly benign, even complimentary, like “good” girl or “smart” kid, or more obviously hurtful like “bad” girl or “troublemaker” or “naughty”.
My labels, growing up were, ‘naughty’ and ‘ambitious’, among others. As the middle child, naughtiness, more euphemistically put, defined me. Whether I hit my little sister or back-talked to my parents, I was the naughty kid who got into trouble. As I grew up, while ‘naughty’ remained in the thoughts of many, its meaning evolved to acquire a more positive, naughty = likes to joke and pull people’s legs kinda interpretation. I didn’t mind that. I had already accepted that, that word was me.
Ambitious – now THAT one I liked! I was also called a “born leader” – perhaps others were also responsible in labeling me but I remember these words coming mostly from my mother. She would narrate this one incident from when I was in first grade where I would gather the kids in the neighborhood, my age, as well as those younger and older than me, and make them stand in a line (why, I have no idea!) and when they inevitably did not follow my orders and stand still and straight in one line, I would scold them, and straighten them back in position. My parents, who would be watching from the balcony amused, amazed, and impressed, would marvel at my ‘leadership skills” and speculate that I was perhaps meant for great things… That was 32 years ago!
Over the years, whenever I achieved something – whether it was being chosen to play Portia in the Merchant of Venice school play, whether it was becoming the commander of my school’s Road Safety Patrol platoon, whether it was winning multiple leadership, public speaking and other awards, acing my Rotary International interview and choosing to go live in Japan for a year at 17, visiting Sikkim alone (GOSH!! A single woman traveler in India!! Been there, done THAT!), being asked to join The Indian Express Newspapers as a regular writer/staff at 19)….life was good. I was ambitious. I did things that I wanted to because I could and because of my parents’ unconditional support. I might have done all of the above anyway but knowing they ALWAYS had my back, no matter what, made the journey that much more fueled.
Fast forward to 2015 – I tearfully typed my resignation letter. I was advised not to resign. I was advised that perhaps it was possible to maintain a long distance marriage (I know for a fact, it isn’t, at least not for me). I was told I would be setting a bad example for women of color with PHDs by quitting….I did it anyway. We moved over 2000 miles to the other side of the country.
Ever since then, I have been struggling to find my once ambitious self.
The word and indeed the sentiment, energy, and aura around the power of this word had also come to define me.
Since moving here, I gave birth to my daughter. Nursed myself through my immediate postpartum period (I know, some of you reading this might think what the big deal about this is – it is for me, because I had my mother every step of the way helping and supporting me during my first postpartum period after the birth of my son. This time, due to her health, she was unable to visit me), got right back into the swing of things because when you have a toddler and a newborn, you have no time to pamper yourself, you just flow…one hour and one day at a time.
I tried (and continue to try) to embrace being a SAHM. Motherhood doesn’t come easy. Sometimes I wonder if I ever had it in me to become a mother. I wonder if life would have been better with one kid or no kids. I wonder why I am not one of those folks who would have been perfectly happy, securely knowing that they never wanted kids. I look at some other moms who talk to their kids so lovingly and calmly, gently, and soothingly, they always know the right things to say and the right ways to say them. I am impatient. I lose my $#iT over little things and big. I almost never know the right things to say and do – sometimes, I do, but not always – and as for the calm, gentle parenting….sheessh….how is that even in the same phrase as in “gentle parenting”. What?
In trying to uphold the ambitious self-fulfilling prophecy, I had to do something.
I started blogging more actively. This blog gained a steady readership. Within weeks, as I learned to navigate Twitter, my followers increased from 13 to 75 to now over a 1000. I obsessively looked up blog link-ups and put my posts out there. I read, commented, and ‘shared the blog love” as they say in the biz. I met many wonderful people whom I genuinely enjoyed getting to know virtually, based on the strength of their writing alone. I humbly accepted the virtual affection and support that started coming my way too. Whether I was having a bad day with the kids, struggling to find my anchor as a SAHM, feeling overwhelmed with everything and nothing….other mamas got me. I was and still am grateful for the kind words and high-fives that came my way from strangers. I opened my blog out to the outside marketing and promotions world. I got sent things for reviewing purposes. I have even started making some money, not much, but enough to recover the cost of hosting this blog with a little leftover. Not enough to pay the bills or really do much of anything but still, something. I thoroughly enjoyed doing all of this and still do, some of the things anyway. But, this isn’t enough.
I tried to write. I am not a writer. I do okay. A few pieces got published in non-competitive spaces. Just as well. The fear of rejections discourage me from sending anything anywhere good. Call it a lack of confidence or acknowledgement of my own limitations as a writer, I don’t push myself to do better. After all, I also write and publish on prestigious platforms like The Huffington Post – yes, me, and a million others. After HuffPo opened up their contributor platform to just about anybody, being able to write there didn’t seem like a big deal anymore. Still, writing something, really thinking about the writing process, the content, the reactions, the readers’ POV and so on…matters, right? I did all this, to my credit. But, it isn’t enough.
I want to be a writer. I want to be a damn good writer. I want to write fiction because it sounds good but I enjoy writing non-fiction more. I am not saying I am good at it, just that I love writing it. I love journalistic style realistic pieces. A dream project would be to travel around the world and write about people’s lives. I love listening to people talk about their lives, work lives especially, but also about their lives – ordinary everyday lives. I love learning about how people live differently, how we are all so, so different, and yet, so, so similar. I have interviewed hundreds of people over my academic career and learned a little from every person I met. But, this isn’t enough.
I want to be an entrepreneur. I tried. I failed. But, I TRIED! I set up booths to sell my various merchandise at three different events and had a blast. I enjoyed every bit of the whole entrepreneurial adventure – the ordering, the inventory management, the selling, the interacting with customers, using Square, counting my cash at the end of the day, carefully physically depositing it at my bank….Nope, not enough.
I want to be creative. I am not. I want to have a successful Etsy shop selling amazing handmade creative works. I make handmade things (e.g, fridge magnets, wooden frames, dabble in painting) – they just aren’t the kinds people want to buy. Great as a hobby, not so much as a business model. Not good enough.
I want to do something powerful. I want to make a difference. Everywhere I look, I find limitations and not all of my own making. The kids are still too little, my professional skills or anything that I was ever good at is rusting away into nothingness, I find myself either under or over qualified academically and with zero experience in anything other than teaching/researching.
So here I am. I know this is the time of the year to be grateful. To express thanks and joy at the things we do have and I am, I am grateful for a lot of things. All said and done though, 2017 has been a shitty year. Losing my mother was the deepest blow I could have endured and that pain, and grief is not going away anytime soon. She is constantly on my mind. On my children’s minds. I talk to my father almost everyday. The other day, my son asked, “Mommy, why do you always only talk to Ajja? Why don’t you talk to Mamama?” He knows she has passed but it hasn’t registered in his little 3-year-old brain yet. My little girl looks at her Mamama’s photo on the fridge and excitedly points and says, “Mamama” – she sees a woman in a sari and bindi in a children’s book and says, “Mamama”….
As for being ambitious….enough is never enough. To borrow a term from psychology, I am a realistic optimist, emphasis on the realistic part. So, even though I wrote this wonderful post about my accomplishments as a SAHM, even though I have a really good multicultural parenting website with strong organic growth thanks to my wonderful contributors, even though I ventured into an entrepreneurial journey (despite its failure), even though I taught myself so many new crafty things in the last couple months, even though I see my kids thriving under my care, even though I can make a mean Thanksgiving meal, a special Hanukkah dinner with homemade latkes, and delicious homemade cashew burfis and besan laddoos…..on the inside, I feel unfulfilled. What will fill that void, complete the sense of lack of accomplishment, I am not quite so sure….but I know what would have helped.
Having my mother around.
If I was able to show Mummy the website I created with zero technological or software or web designing skills, if I was able to share with her my experiences at my few booth events selling things and meeting interesting people, if I was able to show her the creative works I have developed recently and gotten her comments on WhatsApp, if I was able to video chat with her and show her my kids’ latest antics, or show her my ladoos and burfis…..then perhaps, my heart would be fuller, filled with her comments, feedback, loving and kind words of encouragement and compliments, her beaming smiles…then perhaps, I would continue to see myself as my former ambitious self…and maybe, just maybe, that would have been enough.