Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Life Lessons on Bad Wedgie Days

When the kids and I leave for India this Friday on a short holiday, I won’t have to lift a finger. The two children will grunt and heave and load the airport cart and unload it at the counter. And I will hover over the luggage proceedings, occasionally conducting the stressful affair with my fingers while shouting out a few commands for effect. “Put it here!” “Just lift it this way, not that!” Most of my suggestions will be met with a “Mom, please?” or a frosty glare or both.

Understand, they’re not just loading my luggage these days. They’re scanning all my bags. They’re picking my locks. They’re throwing open my lid and unpacking my layers. They’re rearranging me. I’m always at Insecurity Check.

When I was twenty, I was sure there really wasn’t much left in the world for me to learn. At thirty, I was pleased that I could teach my toddlers a whole lot about the world. But now that I’m way past forty (but nowhere within crying distance of 50) and my children are in their teens, I’m often reminded by my flesh and blood that my understanding of world affairs is not quite whole. Apparently, it has holes.

They are becoming my teachers. Let’s rewind to one of my earliest lessons: phonics taught the Challenger way. My son was seven and my daughter was 11. I had learned phonics by osmosis. My children taught it to me the right way.

“No, mom, candy has a short vowel, a ‘breve’, not a ‘macron’, don’t you see?” my seven-year-old pointed out when I peered over his shoulder at his homework. My daughter glared at me over the top of her horn-rimmed glasses, insisting that “these are just the rules of phonics and if you understand them, they’re really quite simple.”

“Does it really matter?” I’d said. “I speak well enough, who cares about short and long?”

Twenty-seven years after I got my college degree I still find myself defending, feebly, the way I learned something.

The kids and I never agree on how we add, subtract, divide and multiply. They wince at my old-fashioned way of doing math. But, they admit, grudgingly, that it works – even smarter than their way sometimes.

Over the last decade, I’ve also been primed on things that I’ve not particularly wanted to learn–like the ‘wedgie’.

“You don’t know what a ‘wedgie’ is?” my daughter shrieked one day around the time she began middle school, buckling into giggles at the way the word rolled out of my Indian tongue. At the debriefing session, I was informed that it was–and I quote the Webster’s here–the condition of having one’s clothing wedged between the buttocks. I told her that not knowing about it for the first 15 years of my life in America hadn’t affected my life–even on a bad Wedgie day.

But, last week, my newly minted college student told my virginal ears about the significance of a sock on the doorknob of a closed door in a college dorm room. “Did the roommate forget to wash a sock when she went out to do a load of laundry, may be?” I ventured. Then this Indian American parent was gently escorted to the sofa and talked to about the ways of the birds and the bees in college. I gathered that some college students needed the privacy of a dorm room and the collusion of a roommate to use a room. The sock in question, she said, is a state of high alert for a roommate to not walk into any hanky-panky.

I reached for my curried smelling salts. So much for a recent lesson from my Cosmo-girl.

Then there was another from my Wired boy. Just last weekend, my son’s ego took a big beating; he lost out at several tournaments, tripped up at school and got a bad rap from one of his teachers. On one of his worst evenings, he sat moping in his room, wondering why he was a monumental failure. A few minutes later, he walked back into the kitchen and got himself a glass of milk. He sat down at the counter, Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions in hand.

“I’m going to be sad exactly for an hour,” he said. “After that, it’s time to move on and see how I can do better in everything.”

And just this morning he told me to stop overreacting because he refused to wear his sweatshirt. He suggested I lower my voice because, when I cursed, our good Korean neighbor would most definitely hear my expletives, especially with the garage door open and all.

So I picked up the debris of my scattered self, zipped up and turned the key in the ignition. He and I were on our way to school.

1 comment:

Shikha Malaviya said...

hi kalpana,

i'm a friend of vidhya's and found out about your blog from her facebook page. i really enjoyed reading your blog posts. your observations and sense of humor really hit home. look forward to reading more! i'm also a writer (who's trying to get her act together). we moved from cupertino to bangalore this summer and are here indefinitely. anyway, good luck with your blog. will definitely visit it regularly.

shikha malaviya