Tag Archives: #mothersday

I Walk With My ForeMothers When I Wear My Streedhan

Desi Roots, Global Wings – a monthly column focused on the Indian immigrant experience

On Mother’s Day, as on all others, I was thinking of my mother and grandmother. Even though they are no more, they are very much present in my everyday life. This is partly thanks to the gold jewelry—a chain, a pair of small earrings, and bangles—that they bequeathed to me. These items matter to me not because of their (modest) monetary value but because of what they signify.

In Marathi, streedhan means “woman’s wealth” (stree=woman, dhan=wealth). The term means “woman’s capital” and, traditionally, it was endowed upon the bride at the time of her wedding. It was comprised of gold and jewelry, household items, and cash. This was the contribution that her birth family made towards helping her get settled in life. Sometimes, the groom’s family also made a contribution towards the streedhan.

This was a way to provide capital that would serve as insurance or investment. If the marriage did not last—early death of the husband was common—the helpless widow would not be entirely at the mercy of fate or her in-laws. Uneducated and unable to earn a living, she could sell the jewelry to pay for her children’s educations, or to buy a small home of her own.

I wear my gold chain, hoops, and bangles all the time—despite the fact that the pieces don’t match my American outfits. Over the decades lived in this adopted land, I have changed about as much as I want to, especially regarding attire. On the few occasions that I bow to the dictates of fashion and take these items of jewelry off, I sense emptiness. My wrists feel manly, my neck seems bare, and my face—unframed by two little hoops—looks as if it is sickly or in mourning. And so, I avoid taking them off; on the few occasions I do, I put them back on at the earliest opportunity.

I walk in this world with my foremothers holding my hand in the form of the jewelry that they wore throughout their lives.

Indian bride

But the chain, hoops, and bangles are not my literal streedhan. My womanly capital is my education. It is what makes me a critical thinker and a lifelong learner. It gives me self-confidence as well as emotional independence. My mother (and father) and grandmother (and grandfather) invested as much thought and energy into making this streedhan available to me as previous generations of parents might have to gather the gold that they bestowed on their young, about-to-be-married daughters. Having witnessed or suffered the havoc that resulted when women were un-empowered, my elders were determined to change course.

Despite my being female, I was excused from doing chores like cooking and cleaning. My elders set expectations of high educational achievement and applauded me when I achieved my potential. So convinced were they about the rightness of this that they did not allow themselves to worry about the consequences such as the challenge of balancing work and family. That would be my battle to fight—using the capacities with which I was being equipped.

They conveyed the reason for the focus on education in clear-eyed and empowering terms. Yes, it was so that I would be spared the hardships and indignities that women of earlier generations had suffered. But, with discipline, determination, and their encouragement it was achievable. All that mattered was making me the most empowered person I could be.

So, the streedhan that I will hand down to my children will be the jewelry that symbolizes a way of being in this world—the courage and sacrifices of our ancestors over outdated and crippling customs; their commitment to nurturing the children and to seek to flourish through unsparing hard work.

Last year I moved 3,000 miles—from the east coast to the East Bay. The pull was my deep desire to be present to my infant grandson. The push was the pandemic which made travel impossible for the foreseeable future.

As he awakens into consciousness and learns about the world around him, sundry items catch his eye. He tugs at my gold bangles and when I hand them to him, he touches and, invariably, puts them in his mouth. Sometimes I twirl them on the floor and they spin like dervishes. He watches enthralled.

The bangles that were worn by my mother and by her mother before her have become the beloved toys of their great-grandson/great-great-grandson. The distance—across five (!) generations and multiple continents—is being bridged through an outdated but repurposed tradition.


Nandini Patwardhan is a retired software developer and cofounder of Story Artisan Press. Her writing has been published in, among others, the New York Times, Mutha Magazine, Talking Writing, and The Hindu. Her book, “Radical Spirits,” tells the deeply-researched story of Dr. Anandi-bai Joshee, India’s first woman doctor. 

Image Tehzeeb Kazami Pixabay


 

Amma reading to Medha (Image by Author)

My Mother Kept Her Promise

Like many of us, one of my biggest fears was always that of losing my mother.  Life without her was not conceivable. 

When I was a little girl, and I was exposed to the idea of death for the first time, I remember asking her, “Amma, will you die too?” 

My mother sat me down, looked me in the eyes, and with complete confidence told me, “I will be here as long as you need me.  I will go only when you tell me that you do not need me anymore,”

In my childish mind, that was all the reassurance I wanted.  I would always “need” my mother, and that meant she could not leave me.

Life went on with my relationship with my mother evolving and changing as time went by.  By the time I was 44, my mother was older and frailer, and my relationship with her was that of one between two close buddies.  It was a two-way relationship with my relying on my mother for advice about raising my kids, and seeking comfort when some worldly affair troubled me.  My mother started relying on me to discuss her innermost worries about her health and the family.  The two of us settled into a very comfortable symbiotic relationship. 

This was until January of 2013 when my mother was diagnosed with cancer.  I was now in the US teaching at a university and raising two kids under the age of 10.   The news hit me like a ton of bricks.  I applied for a sabbatical from work to make the most of the time I had left with my mother.  The year was spent shuttling between India and the US, and trying my best to stay present wherever I was.  In March 2013, I was in India for my mother’s 74th birthday.  I got a cake, invited some neighbors, and had as normal a party as possible.   My mother and I both knew but did not acknowledge the elephant in the room – that this could be my mother’s last birthday with us.  My father was not aware of the gravity of the situation, and none of us had the courage to tell him the harsh truth. 

One of my brothers and I took turns to be in India to help our parents.  When I went back in June 2013, my mother, who by now was a lot weaker, still made trips to the local market with me.  Shopping for kitchen goods was our shared passion and, in a typical Indian steel kitchenware store, we both behaved like kids in a candy store.  I could tell that my mother was pushing herself to make the most of the time she had left.  When we sat down in a coffee shop, I could no longer hold the sorrow inside. 

I blurted out to my mother – “Amma, I cannot live without you.”

My mother looked deeply into my eyes and said, “I will leave you only when you are brave enough to let me go.”

I responded “Amma, that will never happen.”   

In my vulnerable mind, if my mother had promised not to leave me until I was ready to let her go, she couldn’t leave.  She always keeps her promises. 

Amma Sadabhishekam
Amma sadabhishekam (Image provided by Author)

September 2013 –  I traveled back to India to give my brother a break from caregiving.  My mother was in the ICU.  Her condition came as a shock to me.  She could barely talk and she could not see anymore.  We did not know this then, but the cancer had found its way to her brain.  The two weeks following that were a blur.  My mother faded into a semi-coma.  Her body was still there but we could no longer communicate with her.   It killed me to see her stare into space when we called her name. 

Then, the bad news arrived.  It was confirmed that the cancer was in the brain.  Our family doctor told us that this was the end and that we should not try any more life-saving measures. The next day, when I was in the hospital, I told the resident doctor in the ICU that we had decided to sign the “Do Not Resuscitate” order.  He pulled out a form and had me read through it.  From where I sat at the doctor’s desk in the ICU, I could see my mother – eyes taped shut, and all kinds of tubes going into her to keep her alive.  The doctor explained to me that when she fails to breathe on her own, her throat would be punctured to insert a ventilator.   Those words punctured my heart.  I looked at my mother feeling fiercely protective of her and told her in my mind: “Amma, I won’t let anyone trouble you anymore.” 

Without any hesitation and without any tears in my eyes, I signed the form.  I walked over to my mother and whispered in her ear “Amma, please go.  This body is not working anymore.  Don’t worry about Appa.  I will take care of him.  Look at me, I am not crying.  I am fine.  Please go”. 

My mother hung on for a few more days, giving my other siblings the opportunity to see her before she passed away on October 9th early in the morning.  I felt numb.  But, I also felt a strange peace.  My mother was no longer suffering.  She had escaped her cancer-ridden body.  She was free. 

A few days later, I remembered my mother’s promise to me –  “I will leave you only when you are brave enough to let me go”.  I cried.  My mother had kept her promise. 

I returned to the US back to my husband and my children. 

My 9-year-old son snuggled up with me one night and asked me, “Mamma, will you die too?” 

I said to him, “I will be here as long as you need me.  I will go only when you tell me that you do not need me anymore.” 

My son heaved a sigh of relief, hugged me tight, and fell asleep.


Shailaja Venkatsubramanyan has taught information systems at San Jose State.  She volunteers with the Plant-Based Advocates of Los Gatos.  http://www.plantbasedadvocates.com/


 

It Does Take a Village to Raise a Child

As I watched the Netflix documentary that follows Michele Obama’s book tour to promote her memoir, “Becoming”, I was reminded of a former American first lady who published a book while her husband was in office. 

When Hilary Clinton’s book, It Takes a Village And Other Lessons Children Teach Us, was first published, I read about it in the Washington Post. Intrigued by the unusual title, I wondered about her credentials to write with conviction about raising children. After all, she had mothered only one child. 

During the Clintons’ tenure at the White House, I was first a graduate student, and later, a postdoctoral fellow at a university not far from Washington DC. I knew nothing about motherhood and parenting. Judging Hilary Clinton’s expertise to write a book (that I had not read) was presumptuous on my part.  

About a year and a half later, as I cradled my newborn daughter in Silicon Valley, I asked a friend who came by for a visit – “How will I bring up this tiny baby into adulthood? I don’t know anything about parenting.”

A mother of a preschooler, she smiled knowingly and replied “Don’t worry, they come programmed to survive and grow. You don’t have to know anything.”

I heard her but did not believe her. I had devoured What To Expect When You’re Expecting, during my pregnancy. Knowing my penchant for turning to books for advice, someone had thoughtfully gifted me the sequel to help me figure out the first year of my child’s life. 

During my short maternity break, I could foresee how much more difficult my life would become once I returned to work. With growing demands on my body, emotions, and time, I wondered if I would lose myself as I slowly dissolved into the ocean of caregiving that is motherhood. 

Children consume you in ways few other things do. They coerce you, bind you, and trap you with their heart-melting smiles even as you change diapers and pick up toys innumerable times. Coming on the heels of years of infertility, for me, motherhood, like my Ph.D., had been a long-drawn project, a goal that I had desired and aspired for, and my child, the reward for my prayers and effort. 

In the two decades since that initial expression of doubt regarding my mothering ability, I have discovered, to my eternal surprise and gratitude, that I am just the string that connects every person who crossed my path and provided me guidance and assistance along the way to raise my child. 

Photo Credit goes to Taneli Lahtinen

This year Mother’s Day was especially poignant because, in a few weeks, that tiny baby who used to fit in my lap, will fly out of the nest and head back to America, the country where she was born.

I think back to the village of people scattered across the globe, who not only directly impacted her growth but also influenced my journey as a mother. 

Some, like my mother, Amma, held my hand in the delivery room and took care of me in the early days. Amma rescued me several other times when I was in a pinch for childcare, struggling to remain in the workforce. Always supportive, but not necessarily indulgent, she followed the ‘tough love’ style of mothering, long before the phrase was coined. 

Catherine, the gentle, silver-haired British lady who took over as the local grandmother when Amma returned to India, was the first person outside the home to bond with my child. Using only organic ingredients to cook fresh meals and creating personalized birthdays for the kids in her care, Catherine was a loving, no-nonsense woman. It was impressive how she managed to carve out time for self-care, swimming thirty laps in the community pool after a long day watching a handful of babies and toddlers. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Catherine for providing reliable childcare, the prime reason I was able to focus on my budding career.

Bill, my boss, who looked the other way when he saw me slouched over my desk in the early days of motherhood, first introduced me to a lunchtime yoga class, and later supported all of my part-time or flex-time requests, ensuring my progress through the ranks. I shudder to think of how my life would have turned out without Bill as my boss.

In California, a circle of women friends gathered around me to provide assistance to a working mother in a dysfunctional marriage. When I moved to India, another group of female friends came together in Hyderabad to help me find my feet as a single parent. Loaning me a gas cylinder when I moved into my own place, watching my child if I was late from work, accompanying me to court, or to the doctor’s office, many kind women propped me up. 

When handling everything alone felt overwhelming, I remembered the wise words of a colleague who told me at my baby shower, “Parenting is a series of threats and bribes.” 

When I doubted my decision to quit my well-paying job with long working hours and choose a freelance consulting path that paid less but offered greater flexibility, I remembered my aunt’s advice to make whatever minor changes necessary but to not give up my financial independence.

I am indebted to a large global network of individuals who have shared my journey as a mother. It has not been smooth. I have been far from perfect. 

From our shaky first steps in California to the rocky patch in India, and now in our new blended family in Singapore, motherhood has been a delicate dance. The two of us held onto each other, flowing with life as it detoured into uncharted territories. We are at a point where our paths must diverge. My time of intense parenting is coming to an end. 

The river of life will take her in its fold, whisk her to unknown destinations. But I will send her away with the confidence that there is a village out there, to pick up where my direct influence ends. Just as a village came together and sustained her thus far, I have no doubt that she will build another one for the next leg of her life. 

Even without reading Hilary Clinton’s book, I learned first-hand the powerful lesson embedded in the African proverb that she chose as the title for her book. It does take a village to raise a child. And I stand humbled by the experience. 

Ranjani Rao is a scientist by training, writer by avocation, originally from Mumbai, a former resident of USA, and now lives in Singapore with her family. She is co-founder of Story Artisan Press and her books are available on Amazon. She is presently working on a memoir. Medium | Twitter | Facebook | Blog

Adversity, A Blessing in Disguise

Worlds over, the COVID-19 lockdown has brought out the creative potentials of millions of the people. Numerous anecdotes have been shared in the media about how migrant workers were returning to their homes on foot walking hundreds of kilometres, a mother from Telengana making a solo motorbike trip of 1400 KMs to Nellore to bring back her son stranded there, and a host of similar experiences. Our family had one such real-life experience to share. 

My brother’s daughter and her husband are residents of Australia and living in Melbourne. She was expecting her first child by the end of April 2020. February 2020, her mother left for Australia to be with her daughter during the period of delivery, as many of us have been doing for our children living abroad. In Australia, the parents of my brother’s son-in-law had gone to Sydney where their elder son was residing. They were also awaiting the happy news of grandparent-hood. Come COVID-19, the whole world appears to have come under a single-command universe. All around the world, there were lockdown of all shops, malls, offices, and advising the staff to work from home. Social distancing has been on everyone’s lips. Wearing a mask has become mandatory. A uniform pattern has been emerging in fighting this COVID-19.

On 22nd March 2020, I received a WhatsApp call from my brother’s wife. I wondered if her daughter’s delivery date had advanced and she wanted to share the good news of the newborn baby girl. 

“Hope, the delivery was OK!” I asked, as I was trying to cope with my onslaught of thoughts.

“No, Mama, I have come back to Chennai and so have our son-in-law’s parents. We traveled together from Australia.” 

“What about the delivery of the child? Why did all of you come back?”

“In view of COVID-19, the Australian government as an abundant precaution has advised those foreign nationals who are above 50 years of age to go back to their respective countries. So, our son-in-law and our daughter expressed their concerns that if we fall sick under COVID-19, our medical expenses will not be covered by the insurance policies and the hospitalization expenses will be prohibitive. We decided to return, leaving both of them to manage themselves during this critical period,” she reasoned.

I was shell shocked. My thoughts raced back to my childhood days. In the fifties and sixties of the last century, childbirth events in our home used to be facilitated by a mid-wife visiting us; she would help the woman in labor pains delivering the child. Later, this system was replaced by a nurse doing the same tasks. Slowly, taking women to hospitals became the norm. But, almost in all these cases, the entire support system will be from the girl’s parent’s side, everyone chipping in to reduce the rigor of the tasks. To the best of my knowledge, there has never been a child’s delivery in the absence of this familial help. 

“Hey, in your absence, who will take care of her?”

“Don’t worry, Mama, she is a real courageous Mumbai born woman. They are confident in handling the events themselves. Fortunately, COVID-19 has made both of them quarantine at home and they have stacked their house with staples and vegetables for one month. The hospital is just a ten minute drive away from their home. So, let us hope things will turn out good for us.”

“Offer your prayers to our Kula Deivam (family deity) and keep a ten rupee coin tied in turmeric water-soaked cloth. Keep me posted. I will also speak to both of them.”

“OK, Mama. I will do as advised by you.”

On 27 April 2020, my brother phoned up and conveyed the happy news that his daughter has delivered the girl baby at 08 09 hours. Both the mother and the child are safe. A cute photo of the child was immediately shared through WhatsApp with our family members.

Adversity is a blessing in disguise and it brings out the best in us. These young couples have proved it. While COVID-19 has affected the livelihoods of thousands of workers, it has a flip side too. It makes one stronger. See, my brother’s daughter is the first woman in our family who has delivered a child and managing chores without any support from the parents. Hats off to this 21st Century woman and her newborn girl.

Dr. S Santhanam is a writer, a blogger, and a retired General Manager of the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development. Born (1948) in Kumbakonam, the temple town of South India, I studied in the popular Town High School (Where Great Mathematician Shri Ramanujam also was born and did his schooling) and graduated in Mathematics from the Government College. 

To Ma, From Your Daughter

ma

To the woman who loved

what had not yet become, making promises 

with unfolding fabric: 

We shared skin, but from you I grew into

my own — an inherited thing

inhabited, but never out

grown.

You hollowed a home 

within yourself, doorways 

forged from flesh, walls

 shifting soundlessly

with each passing breath. 

There is a forever in the spaces 

between you and I — it stares back

at the two of us, a daughter’s love

opening its luminous eyes 

for the first time.

—- 

Kanchan Naik is a junior at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin, CA. Aside from being the Youth Editor at India Currents, she is the Editor-in-Chief of her school’s news-zine The Roar. She is also the Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton and uses her role to spread a love of poetry in her community.

Mother Says So…

A mother’s love is that divine gift that enables a child to do their best.  Mother is not a noun but a verb that personifies unselfish love. We are all connected to our mothers through a special bond even after the umbilical cord is cut. Sooner or later we all start emulating our maternal traits, some of us more than others. 

I remember my mother every morning when I wake up. I open my eyes to my palms and recite the morning prayer. During the day the Rudraksh beads of practical wisdom from her rosary guide my actions. At night when my head touches the pillow, it is her voice that calls upon me to surrender myself to the creator: “Om Hari Sharna”.

I am fortunate like many of you to have a very loving, kind, courageous, talented, and devoted mother. How I wish I could be with her on this Mother’s Day but I cannot travel to India because of the COVID pandemic. It breaks my heart but assembling the pieces of my love for her into a collage, I share this writing as an homage to all our mothers. In my conversations with friends and family on the phone, FaceTime, Facebook, Instagram, and zoom, I have gathered stories about mothers all over the world.

One of my friends said that her mother has a rule, “Never leave the house without saying I love you to your brothers and sisters. You don’t know when you would be together again.” She also said, “Contentment is a difficult virtue but not unattainable” What good advice.

Another lady’s mother went by, “Beauty is what beauty does!”

One mother bade her child to stay organized and she obeyed by keeping an immaculate home. 

A lovely southern belle shared her mother’s advice: “Always be polite and well dressed”. Your good manners can take you around the world. 

My aunt advised her daughters not to do everything themselves even if they knew how to do it. Let your children learn for themselves. Excellent advice, I wish I would have heeded this one. Because of her teaching, my friends and cousins have become experts at delegating their chores to others. Very convenient indeed! 

My aunt always had useful culinary advice. This came in handy before instant cooking and googling recipes was a fad. She said, “If you don’t want to spend your time in the kitchen, rolling rotis for your brood, just make them all rice eaters.” Although I love a fresh chapati with ghee on occasions, we generally cook rice to go with our vegetables.

My son admits that I taught him to be polite to everyone. I think somewhere, in all the telling of stories and reciting poems during his childhood, my sweetness might have taken hold in his nature.

My mother told me not to openly voice my opinion about others but I have not followed this advice. In my personal life, I am known to speak my mind, like my dad. My daughter overlooks my stubborn streak most of the time and we enjoy creative activities together. I paint and write and she creates my Instagram and web pages. My daughter is an honest critic. When I really need advice I go to her.

My grandson had some interesting inputs. He said, “My mother has taught me to say thank you, sorry and to cover coughs and sneezes”.  All helpful tips indeed.

I asked him what I had taught him? He said, “To say Hanjee instead of Haan.” I still think that he does not understand that it is meant as a sign of respect to others and not a mere grammatical appendage that he constantly forgets. 

My mother also said that save your money because ultimately it will help you in any dire circumstance. This is so true in the time of the pandemic when so many of us have to rely on our savings for food, shelter, healthcare, and helping the needy.

Mother taught a lot through her actions. She started her day early, in “Brahma Muhurta”. This good habit gave her an early start into bathing, prayers, gardening, cooking, and reading the morning newspaper. By the time other members of the house woke up, breakfast was ready on the table. She knew that a way to everyone’s heart was through their stomachs. We had fresh food every day: parathas and pickles, poori aloo, omelet toast, upama, idli sambar, and seviyan. 

At home, we kids did not have a natural inclination to learn cooking or help her in domestic chores. She never complained working on her on but was most particular about her afternoon siesta. She took a thirty-minute nap every day and no one could disturb that. We kids squirmed and protested but that was a ritual we all had to follow. Mother was very determined but her effect was gentle and angelic. She never laughed or cried loudly. Very ladylike was her expression and perhaps because of that she has a smooth unwrinkled face to this day. She was able to sense my dad’s moods and always cautioned us, kids, to behave accordingly. We had wonderful conversations at the dinner table which are dearly missed but I don’t miss having to gulp down spinach with water.

My mother often said, “Apne Hath Jagannath.”

As I was explaining the meaning of this cryptic phrase to my friends, I realized that my mother literally took my hands and put them to action. She gave me the gift of an industrious life when she presented me with a sketchbook and colors. Wherever we went, we carried our hobby bag with us.

Ever since then, I have tried to create my own world through medicine, art, and writing. Creativity is my life mantra. I gaze upon the elegant visage of my mother as she tries to bless me by touching my forehead through the phone, I feel humbled. There are not enough words, phrases, poems, or songs in this language that would encompass my feelings of deep gratitude for my mother. But I don’t have to…

There is a woman in the house

Her breath rises and falls

She rests her head on my shoulder 

We both read from the same page

Our eyes close

We hold kindness

We are happy…

Monita Soni grew up in Mumbai, India, and works as a pathologist in Decatur Alabama. She is well known for her creative nonfiction and poetry pieces inspired by family, faith, food, home, and art. She has written two books: My Light Reflections and Flow through my Heart. She is a regular contributor to NPR’s Sundial Writers Corner.

A Mother’s Unconditional Love

Wooooooosh, a loud exhale, and then a soft inhale. I could hear my young daughter quietly scurry across the hallway calling her brother in hushed tones. Long before I knew it, they both were sitting in the lotus yoga pose, imitating me, with their eyes closed, making those absurd exhale wooshes. Along came a giggle and then another until they fell over laughing holding their tummies, making me laugh out loud while enjoying this strong mother-child bond. 

Motherhood is the noblest of callings and a privilege to be entrusted with a tiny human life. Motherly love is unconditional and is the foundation of a child’s growth. This kind of love helps foster self-confidence and has a long-lasting impact on developing their minds and shaping their conscience.

The role of the mother is to watch, teach, guide, and help in the growth and development of a child. There is an unfathomable, deep, trusting love that connects mother and child.

Motherhood for me is a privilege and an adventure. It is guiding my children to be the best versions of themselves and make good choices. To help them to grow to be kind, confident, caring, and loving. To be their cheerleader, to hold their hand, and at the same time teach them boundaries. Being a mother is ensuring a feeling of safety and love though it sometimes comes with fears, worries, and heartache. Motherhood is a gift to be grateful for and the joy of seeing the wonders through your children’s eyes

Don’t we all come to a realization that “Oh no, I have become my mother.” It is not a bad thing. You start saying some phrases like her and even your expressions take on those of your mothers.  I recall my charming mother who took the time to talk to me about politics, finance, and just about everything. She was full of life and came down to my level of wanting to have fun and a deep bond grew. I am so grateful that she was my guiding light.  I miss and thank you, mom!

You don’t need Mother’s Day to take time to talk with your mom and give her some of your time. We tend to hear about ourselves but do we take time to ask our moms more about themselves? Here are a few questions to help you. 

(i) What’s something you wanted to do but didn’t….why? 

(ii) Who were your role models when you were young and do you have any now?

(iii) Was there a situation that made you see the world differently?

(iv) What was the first year of motherhood like for you?

(v) Describe your perfect day.

Being a mother is a joyous gift, being blessed and also the toughest with its fears and worries. Take heart in the love you receive from your mother…she holds your soul in her heart! 

Geetanjali Arunkumar is a writer, artist, life coach. She is also the illustrator of the oil painting used as the featured image. 

Mothering During Shelter in Place

Try entertaining a toddler without shelter in place and you will find yourself exhausted beyond belief at the end of the day. A study has shown that even athletes are unable to keep up with tots. And then try entertaining a toddler with a shelter in place and without external stimulation of friends, playgroups, storytimes, or babysitters involved. The internet is bursting with tips on how to do this. Mothers are looking for outlets to save them, and as a mother, I can vouch for the fact that every mother is asked this question: How can you do this with little ones? To that I say with much thought, as mothers, we can do this because nothing surprises a mother.

For me personally, this time reminds me of my maternity leave. A period where women step into the unknown. I was apprehensive. It was a time when the mind and body were met with unexpected challenges. A time of withdrawal. A time when nothing turned out as it was planned. External stressors such as lack of sleep, learning to care for a new child, and accepting a major life change kept me on my toes. The period lasted way longer than I thought. And even though others had been through it and in that sense it was a collective experience, my journey was my own with its unique set of parts and players. On that lonely ride, I learned to look within for the inner strength that would not only ride me, but catapult me through that time.

Unlike some others facing the general challenges of this time, mothers do not have the time and luxury to binge watch Netflix, or read novels at length or take an online class. Their lives demand action at every moment. But no one is more equipped to do this. Mothers have faced it all. Mothers are always in survival mode and take on a storm because they are always aware of the creeping dangers in the unsettling yet redeeming experience of motherhood. Their instincts to protect their children make them rise to all possibilities. Fear is always on a mother’s mind, she is like an animal keeping guard and ready to fight for her child’s safety.

Anyone who has ever been a mother would agree that mothers are used to not getting what they want. We are used to our lives being run by events and desires outside of ourselves. The universe of children throws curve balls when least expected. Illnesses, accidents, backfired travel plans, failed attempts at showing up at important work presentations, and even more disastrous attempts at working from home! Oh, how could she ever face the day again? And yet she does. Wiser and stronger than ever before, and more in tune with the ebbs and flow of the rhythm of life.

Every mother has gone through some form of deep inner transformation, whether she knows it or not. She knows that even though externally she appears to be in control or has to create her own reigns, that providence is in charge. She is fueled by a power that she digs from within herself. She has all the help and support from God and the universe. And she never takes anything for granted, for she knows the value of freedom and the greater value of bondage. Through this very bondage, she realizes that all things pass and that there is always light at the end of the tunnel.

As the world faces this challenge, my heart says a deep prayer for all mothers to be during this pandemic. It stands united with all other mothers having to make do at this time. But what I see behind the depth of this darkness is that we mothers have another opportunity not only to protect, provide, love, and entertain, but to be proud and humbled at another lesson, and have another go at being and doing what we never thought we could.

Preeti Hay is a freelance writer. Her articles have appeared in publications including The Times of India, Yoga International, Khabar Magazine, India Currents, and anthologies of poetry and fiction.

Navigating Autism – A Mother Without Help During a Pandemic

As a mother of three beautiful children, Siri, Vamsi, and Kiran, shelter-in-place has been a time to find positivity in the difficult moments. While Vamsi and Kiran are in college, my eldest daughter Siri never left home. 

This past April 2, 2020 was Autism Awareness Day and a few weeks into the ongoing pandemic frenzy. Initially, I couldn’t help but think that this shelter-in-place should come with more help for moms – especially for those that have children with disabilities.

Siri in a dress she made herself.

Siri was diagnosed with Autism when she was 3 years old.

Before shelter-in-place, Siri was involved in several activities: ice-skating, exercising, boxing, fitness dancing, ABA therapy, working at Goodwill, and attending a day program. For the past six months, I have accompanied Siri to all her activities except her day program. Since most of them are fitness-oriented, she was showing considerable improvement in handling her emotions, and so we gradually tapered her medications for anxiety.  

Around the time when shelter-in-place was declared, Siri was at the peak of her fitness regime, and we were approaching zero medications. But, now, since all her outdoor activities are inaccessible, I feared we might have to start her medications again.

To my surprise, there was no necessity to bring her medications back. Furthermore, she got adjusted to the new schedule within a couple of days. She noticed that her brothers were at home and she adapted to the new lifestyle of no outdoor activities.

On the Autism spectrum, my daughter’s main challenge is understanding language; Siri cannot communicate much. For example, if we tell her why she cannot go out, she may not understand or might misunderstand, and her anxiety will increase since she cannot ask clarifying questions. My husband and I have decided to let her learn by herself, letting her observe her environment.

Siri’s jewelry.

Siri keeps herself busy by working on her online jewelry making business, which she started 5 years ago. What she lacks in her ability to communicate, she more than surpasses in her fine motor skills.

Currently, in this period of shelter-in-place, I am teaching Siri to stitch masks for the COVID-19 workers and once the SIP is lifted, I have plans to teach her horse riding, weaving, soap, and candle making. Autism doesn’t have to be a barrier. It requires creative ways of teaching. Siri can learn any new skill if taught the way she understands. Small and simple steps. 

Considering that I regularly make decisions for her and motivate her as well, it often worries me, will she be able to manage without me? Nevertheless, during this shelter-in-place, the silver lining is that Siri is gradually becoming independent and is without her medications. These are the small assurances that remind me that, even without me, Siri will emerge much stronger, confident, and better than what she is today.

My family wants to share our story as a South Asian, immigrant family confronting Autism. It has been a unique and challenging journey.

If you’re interested in helping us fund the documentary, you can donate to our kickstarter campaign.

You can find the amazing work Siri is doing on her website.

Swathi Chettipally is a devoted mother and an Autism advocate. Find more about her work with Siri on pinterest, instagram, and youtube.