Something has been happening this month. I don’t understand it and I can offer no explanation other than I must be living in an alternate universe as my kids like to say.
You see, a couple of weeks ago, my daughter went back to college. Over the summer, she had come home and for the most part reverted to her charming way of side-stepping any work. Her timing was always impeccable. If I walked in and saw her swatting flies (on a game in her laptop, of course; nothing really active, come on!) and said, “hey, set the table, will you?” I got the perfect “just” response. “I’m just in the middle of enrolling for classes” or “I’m just applying for a summer job”-those very responses that stop a mom in her tracks and decide she must not interrupt this responsible young adult. Well, my instinct was equally impeccable and I just happened to know that she would rather just be doing anything but use a bit of muscle around the house.
Then she announced she had decided to move off campus. I thought another year on campus would have been more prudent since she knew little about cooking and cleaning, paying bills, cleaning, grocery shopping and cleaning. (Did I say cleaning more than once?) But her mind was made up, and the university fortuitously over-enrolled freshmen, so upper-classmen were essentially booted out to fend for themselves. She and her friends found themselves a nice apartment off campus, and it was probably shortly after that I must have hit my head and had a bad concussion, because nothing has made sense since then.
There was a predictable flurry of shopping for a bed, a desk, and some other essentials. Then she started asking for bakeware. “I like to make scones,” she declared. “In fact, it would be best if I got a muffin pan and a bundt pan too, since I like cakes.” Pots and pans came next. I also got a taste of what rooming together in the digital age looks like. It seemed we could go nowhere without room-mate input. Every time we stood in front of household goods at any store, the phone was whipped out and conversations flew back and forth. “Did you buy a can opener? Ok, I’ll get the egg whisks then. What do you think about these matching storage jars <click, send>?”
The weekend came when she decided to move in before her roommates did, so she could get comfortable in her surroundings and find her way to Safeway (no mean feat in her city since you can trip over three organic food stores and four pot shops within 500 feet, even buy a mandala or two, but you have to take three buses to get to Safeway!) That weekend I swung between applauding her independence and thinking about episodes of Criminal Minds that had the general theme “Shemar Moore sexily chases evil serial killer who stalked young women walking to Safeway.” Then the first text arrived … “can you send me your cauliflower recipe and your vendakkai (okra) recipe?” I threw myself on the floor and wept with happiness. She was alive! And more importantly, much, much more importantly, someone wanted an Indian recipe from me! Heck, everyone knows Indian cooking is not my forte. I was clearly approaching some sort of Tamilian mami-hood.
Now you should know that in my house, the food ranges from sambhar to bratwurst (sometimes on the same day, if the two countries reach an impasse!). So why did she not buy ready-to-eat bratwurst at Safeway? Comfort food, it seems, comes in a container of dal.
Pictures came next. “Look, I made ghee so I could have it with dal.” And then, this is when I was certain I must have a concussion. She said, “I don’t understand it. I have this compulsive need to clean the kitchen. I even bought some 409 and scrubbed the hood of the stove.”
“I’m sorry,” I said sadly, “you must have the wrong number. I don’t know you.”
The impostor didn’t stop there. Last weekend, the campus filled with the roommates and other friends, as classes began. She called again, to tell me that one of her friends tumbled in that morning, bleeding and moaning, after he had fallen off a skateboard and kissed the concrete with his entire face. The domestic goddess child turned into a nurse as she apparently handed him an ice-pack, and found some gauze to bandage his elbows, while the other roommates stared horrified. And then as they pondered where to find medical help on a Saturday, she said with authority in her voice, “What insurance do you have?” When she found that he had the same insurance we did, she directed him and his girlfriend to the appropriate clinic. And then she cleaned and disinfected the house.
I hung up again with, “sorry, I really don’t know you.” What I know is that my child hates the sight of blood, and used to leave the house when we had to remove a splinter from her younger sister’s hand. And I swear she knows nothing about insurance! I don’t know who’s taken over her phone and identity, but that girl has some pretty good recipes now and it’s time for her to leave us alone.
Have you seen my daughter? If you find her, will you tell her that her mother misses her and she can come home to the old universe, and all will be forgiven?
Gayatri Subramaniam is a pre-licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Silicon Valley. She moonlights as a writer when the whim strikes her.