Of wise mothers and loving fathers

My parents’ philosophy can best be summed up as follows: study hard, respect everyone, and just because you can’t doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try! There’s also – be honest, be diplomatic, be happy, and avoid eating cucumbers at night because they will give you wicked gas. My parents’ philosophy combines the prosaic with the poetic!

My father is an engineer and my mother a school teacher, so I always like to say that I’m a chip of both old blocks – I think they object to the “old” part of that statement! By every standard I had a fantastic childhood – no complaints – and I’m freakishly close to my family. They’ve informed my sense of humor, my unabashed geekiness, and my love of science. They, however, had nothing to do with my ability to procrastinate, my chronic foot-in-the-mouth problem, and my inability to resist temptation of the food variety. So there’s definitely a nature vs. nurture lesson here that I’m too lazy to explore in any great detail.

When I was born in 1972, the second daughter of a naval officer, the nurse in INHS Sanjivani came out and apologetically told my father – “I’m sorry sir, it’s another girl“. My father responded – “Fantastic, bring her out!” He then took in sweets to his office to celebrate my birth and some of his fellow officers told him how sorry they were to hear about the arrival of a second girl. My father’s mother told him not to worry, the next time it would surely be a boy*. And my father, in a moment of exquisite grace, thanked them all for their kind commiserations and said “I’m only going to go for number 3 if you guarantee it’s going to be a girl“! That effectively shut everyone up!

And as you have probably already guessed, the burden of being a second daughter in a society that craves sons has really turned me into the shy, reticent, and introverted person I am today – HAH!! HELLS NO…. don’t worry, I was a very unimpressionable baby with little concern for the socio-economico-political ramifications of being a second girl child.  Because, all my life my father has been nothing but proud and supportive of his two daughters. He routinely calls to congratulate friends and relatives and acquaintances on the birth of girls (well, boys too, but he’s unashamedly biased)- “Welcome to the 2D club” he told my cousin on the birth of his second daughter – “you are going to love being a member of this elite establishment.” When my sister left for the US to go to graduate school in 1990, my father insisted we sit outside the airport terminal in Mumbai and only agreed to leave once we had seen her plane take off – when his eldest child had left Indian soil.

And then there’s my mother – she’s the brains of the operation – and I have my father’s permission to say so. I always knew empirically that she was talented – she could knit and sew and draw – obviously that crafty chromosome completely missed me! When I was 12 I realized that my mother was also – wait for it – smart. Like really, really smart. It was at some kind of pot luck with other families where she was the only one amongst 20 other ladies who was able to correctly identify Raisa Gorbachova and Winnie Mandela from their photographs. I mean, I knew she has two Bachelor’s degrees in Botany and Education** – but it didn’t strike me how truly smart she was until she pulled those two women’s names out of seemingly nowhere!

Now this is not to say that my parents were complete pushovers. I got my behind smacked and I was yelled at and I had to do chores and there were the perennial parenting favorites like – “what were you thinking”, “are you really that stupid”, and “are you crying because you’re sorry or because you got caught”! But now that they are grandparents it’s been eye opening to see this completely different side of them. Who knew that my mom would patiently teach my child how to do multiplication or that my dad would play Uno for hours. Who knew that he would buy my kids everything they asked for at the store, or she would bake them cookies everyday. Who knew that my kids have never ever heard my parents say “No“! To paraphrase Bill Cosby – these grandparents are not my parents!

But, in the larger scheme of things, though my parents are really really cool….they do have some….how should I say this – quirks. My father has never met a fart or poop joke he didn’t like and my mother is incapable of giving up the last words in an argument! And apparently, these two qualities are the dominant genetic traits I have inherited and passed down to my own kids. Oh, and they love to argue – oh boy do they argue! It’s like watching an epic Federer-Nadal rally! And it’s really not about who’s right or wrong at this point and more about staving off age-associated senility by keeping their minds rapier sharp. But – and this is what’s truly impressive – they can disagree without being disagreeable! That takes mad skills yo! Unfortunately, I can only aspire to that sort of zen-like meta-calm when I argue with my own spouse.

But when my kids are driving me up a wall and I’m on my last nerve – I just channel my parents – as I remember them from my childhood – take a couple of deep breaths and …… yell at the top of my lungs – “STOP THAT RACKET AND DON’T MAKE ME COME THERE OR SO HELP ME GOD I WILL GIVE YOU SOMETHING TO CRY ABOUT!!” And would you know – it makes me feel a lot better! Rarely solves the bickering child problem, but I’m definitely a happier person for having exercised my lungs!

*My grandmother loved me very much but at the time she said that, I was a pretty unremarkable blob – so I never held it against her!

**UPDATE: I incorrectly stated that my mom has a Master’s degree in Zoology and Botany, turns out she has two Bachelor’s degrees in Botany and Education – so this proves two things – my mom is clearly an underachiever, and I meticulously plan out these blog posts with care and consideration and the kind of attention to detail that Christiane Amanpour can only aspire to.

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