Tag Archives: parenting

The Intersection of Parenting and Mental Health During a Pandemic

When Shruti got the chance to relocate to the U.S. at the end of 2019, little did she know that her life-changing decision would be one of the hardest she ever made. Cradling a two-year-old and a teenage boy in tow, the recently-divorced IT professional shifted to Silicon Valley with the hopes of starting afresh in January of 2020. A few months down the line, everything came crashing down.

When the lockdown happened in the US, after the country faced devastation with the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping across states, Shruti had barely settled down. She had to get her elder son into a school and got a friend to help take care of her younger one as she geared up for office. Things did not go according to plan and suddenly Shruti found herself stuck at home with a teenager who had no friends in the new country and a youngster who needed constant attention as she tried to reshuffle her home and work-from-home environment. She was not the only one.

For 32-year-old single-mother Neha (name changed on request), life changed drastically when in March 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the world. Her younger son, Viraj, was 15 at the time and was studying in the 10th grade. Starting March 16, schools in Maryland were closed and the world descended into uncertainty. Her son was stuck at home, cut off from social life. The sight was uncanny and like us, everyone was unaware when the normalcy would return.

For Neha, seeing her son Viraj at home was especially difficult. Prior to the pandemic, Viraj used to meet his friends, played outdoor sports, and preferred engaging in co-curricular activities. Many like Viraj were forced to be in isolation indefinitely. Thankfully, Viraj had friends in the neighborhood, so despite having inhibitions, Lucia allowed him to play basketball outside with a few other youngsters from around her house.

There are thousands like Neha across the U.S. for whom the pandemic brought about fresh challenges. It has been particularly strenuous for single parents trying to work and care for their youngsters. Everyone has been more anxious and worried during the pandemic. Younger children may not have the words to describe their feelings but are more likely to act out their stress, anxiety, or fear through their behavior. This in turn can upset parents, particularly if they are already stressed.

A study published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry finds that lone fathers and lone mothers have higher rates of mood disorders and SUDS (Subjective Unit of Distress Scale) than their married counterparts, which is indicative of the disadvantages of this sort of a family structure that might have negative consequences for all parents.

Let’s face it, the ever-shifting demands of parenting in a pandemic are leading to stress, anxiety, and depression, not to mention economic hardship for those forced to leave their jobs to care for their children.

According to the American Psychological Association, home in the age of COVID-19 has become the office, the classroom, and even the gym. Parents are struggling to not only keep their children occupied, but also to oversee their education as they continue to do their daily chores, finish office work and take care of other necessities in their family life. Daycares have shut down amidst the pandemic and parents or a single parent has to simultaneously take care of their youngsters while they are online fulfilling their professional obligations. 

Shruti, has since then, flown back to India with her children, thanks to one of the many government-sponsored flights bringing back ex-pats to their native countries. She looks back at those fear-riddled stressful months when she and her children were stranded within four walls, she notes that, while it is normal to feel fearful, anxious, or stressed given the current situation, there are ways one can de-escalate the mental-health issues of parenting amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

So what should parents do to ensure proper mental health for themselves and their children?

For starters, the APA suggests that parents should set boundaries within the home space since they tend to blur when work life and home occur at the same place. Setting specific boundaries that separate the work from the home environment helps the child and parent have a safe haven within the home. 

Experts also opine that while it is impossible for either parents or their wards to put in normal hours during such stressful times, one has to maintain a routine, even if it entails a child to stay up later than usual to finish a particular work. Routines enable families to cope with stress and be more resilient.

Finally, relaxing screen time will allow youngsters to stay connected with their social circle and ease parental stress. 

Hope these tips help you during this transitional time!


Umang Sharma is a media professional, avid reader, and film buff. His interests lie in making the world a better place through the power of the written word.


 

Film still from 'Mukti Bhawan'

Mukti Bhawan Celebrates the Parental Bond With Delicate Sensitivity

I would say it’s a rather uncanny coincidence. Mukti Bhawan is a film that I had wanted to write about for a long time. Just as I had gathered my thoughts and was close to penning the piece, I heard about the sad demise of actor Lalit Behl, who essayed the role of patriarch Dayanand Kumar in the film. The veteran actor-filmmaker passed away due to COVID complications on April 23.

As I pray for the eternal peace of the departed soul, I take a humble step to share my thoughts on this brilliant piece of cinema. 

It was the fall of 2016. After being premiered at the Venice International Film Festival, Mukti Bhawan received a 10-minute standing ovation from the audience. The depth of the subject matter and the delicate sensitivity with which it was handled moved the viewers immensely. Over the years, Mukti Bhawan has been showered with worldwide critical acclaim and has been screened at several film festivals. Its most recent entry is into this April’s London Indian Film Festival

Glimpses of  the story

Daya (Lalit Behl) lives with his son Rajiv (Adil Hussain) and his family. A dream he sees implants the idea in his mind that his days on earth are numbered. He announces at the dinner table that he wants to attain salvation and spend the final stage of his life in the sacred ghats of Varanasi. Rajiv is at the crossroads where he needs to balance between his office work and making preparations for his daughter’s wedding. Yet, he carries out his father’s wishes and takes Daya who is relentless and stubborn and won’t hear otherwise.

‘Mukti Bhawan’ is the lodge that Daya and Rajiv check into. An establishment housing elderly people, it lays down the rule which allows a maximum of 15 days of residency. Daya is at ease, settling in comfortably. He finds companionship in Vimla, a widow who has lived there for a long stretch since her husband’s death. Rajiv performs his duties as the obedient son, but he has the constant pressure mounting over him to return home and to his work.

Within the walls of this dilapidated building come alive the differences between the father and the son that have so long remained buried. Are Daya and Rajiv able to make peace and forget the past? And does Daya attain the salvation that he so passionately desired? These are the answers to look for as the film takes us through an emotional experience layered with sensitive humane nuances. 

The film mirrors reality through a script that is top-notch

The theme of aging parents is not new in the Indian film diaspora and has been addressed earlier. But what sets Mukti Bhawan on a level of its own is its realistic dimension. The story unfolds spontaneously with the absence of overt melodrama. 

Although the film steps into a philosophical domain by talking about life and death, there are light-hearted moments sandwiched between serious happenings. These scenes allow the narrative to flow with naturalistic, unencumbered ease. There is, for instance, a scene in which Daya’s granddaughter jokingly tells him that she is glad that she would have a room all by herself when he leaves the house. Again a comic moment surfaces when Daya falls ill and a bhajan is sung in anticipation of his death. Unable to bear the cacophony, he asks the singers to sing in tune.

A stellar star cast contributes its utmost

Mukti Bhawan belongs to the duo of Lalit Behl and Adil Hussain, who deliver their masterstrokes. Their interactions and conversations elevate the father-son relationship to a point where the scenes feel like those from real life and not just reel moments.

Behl is extremely convincing as the cantankerous father making inconsiderate demands. Anyone dealing with aged parents can easily relate to those times when he regresses to a state of childlike obstinacy, a behavior not too uncommon and seen sometimes among the elderly.

Adil Hussain’s portrayal of Rajiv fetched him a National Award, and it’s an accolade rightfully deserved. What is distinctive about the actor is that he molds himself effortlessly into any character he plays in his films. The role of Rajiv ranks high in the list of his outstanding performances. Anger, sadness, and frustration encircle him as he has to shoulder the responsibilities of a son, a husband, and a father. Hussain displays these varied emotions with unbelievable finesse.

The female actors in the film also show promise. Geetanjali Kulkarni as Rajiv’s wife and Palomi Ghosh as the independent-minded daughter make their presence felt by contributing their fair share. Navindra Behl as Daya’s companion strikes a chord with her warmth and kind disposition.

Film still from ‘Mukti Bhawan’

The film celebrates the parental bond with a heartwarming panache

Mukti Bhawan is a testimony to the genius and maturity of director Shubhashis Bhutiani, who embarked on this project in his twenties. Life and death are the two major strands in the web of human existence, and the film delineates this truth with fine artistry. Bhutiani weaves into this reality a story of human ties that raises questions and opens a window for reflection.

Without any moralizing, the film leaves a note, and it does so rather subtly and wisely. There are those unspoken words that contribute to the uniqueness of the narrative. While celebrating the parental bond, the film focuses on a father-son relationship that is seemingly imperfect. The bumps and jolts do not make the journey a breezy ride. But there emerges a beautiful realization that even within these misunderstandings, there is still ample room to make amends, allow forgiveness, and thereby preserve the sanctity of this timeless relationship.


Rashmi Bora Das is settled in the suburbs of Atlanta, GA. She has written for various platforms including Women’s Web to which she regularly contributes. You may visit her at www.rashmiwrites.com 


 

Mother and Baby

The Lori, Jola, Angai Geet Keep Us Awake

A lullaby is as ancient as the hills. It connects a mother to the child, much like an umbilical cord, nurturing both. It brings about “an exchange of souls” as suggested by Bayartai Genden, a propounder of the lullaby. Although called a cradle song since its start, it may prove helpful even in serious adult illnesses and in hospice as discovered by modern scientists. Upon first hearing the sound of the mother, the baby gets hooked on to her. But when does the baby even start hearing? That is a fascinating story to unravel.

Embryological Roots of Hearing

At about 18 weeks of life in the womb, the baby perceives the first sound of the beating of her mom’s heart, her breathing sounds, her intestinal gurgling, and the stream of blood passing through her umbilical cord. No wonder the baby, later on, enjoys the sound of a stream or river, which is her deja vu experience! In the third trimester of pregnancy, the baby specifically recognizes her mother’s voice as evidenced by her heart rate increasing when the mother is talking outside. The baby, however, has to hear her mom’s voice through a fluid medium and has to develop a correlation upon her birth that she heard the same voice then and now! 

A Lullaby Is More Than Just a Tune For a Baby  

Scientific experiments show that the baby prefers hearing her mother’s own voice singing a lullaby rather than somebody else’s. The baby also prefers the subject matter of the lullaby to be infant-directed rather than non-infant-directed! Thus starts the story of “me and mine!” The topic of the lullaby may inevitably get modified as the mother employs it to express her fears, hopes, and prayers. 

I learned in my school a lullaby attributed to Shivaji’s mother, Jijibai, who prepared her son to wage and win a war when he grew up. “Sleep now, but fight later,” she sang. This correlates well with the story of Abhimanyu in Mahabharat wherein he learns the art of war while in the uterus.

An Obstetrical Clinic in California teaches pregnant mothers to talk to their baby in the womb. I also learned a lullaby sung by the mother of a child laborer in the textile industry. She lamented waking up her child from a deep sleep of early morning to report to his daily hard work. A Syrian mother changed her soothing lullaby to a fear-stricken one when she was forced to migrate to Turkey to escape the brutal conditions in Syria. Highly toxic polluted air in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia prompted a mother to shift her children to safer surroundings and sing a nostalgic song about how her beautiful country had so drastically deteriorated!

Thus a lullaby may often unfold an ongoing tale of changing conditions.

Lullabies: A Universal Blanket Covering the Vast Universe

Hannah Reyes Morales, from the Philippines, deserves special credit for reawakening our interest in the lullaby. She has reviewed the world history of the lullaby in National Geographic (December 2020) with accompanying eloquent pictures related to the subject. In fact, there is no part of human culture or province that the lullaby has left untouched. It is ancient but alive and needs to be nurtured to be kept alive. Every country from A to “Z”, so to speak, has its own synonym for a lullaby, the core remaining unchanged.

The French call it Berceuse, the Western musicians Lullaments, while a multilingual country like India has many names for it. It is called Lori in Hindi, Jola in Telugu, Thalattu in Tamil, Nanabaya in Odia, Angai Geet in Maharashtrian, Halardu in Gujarati, Ghum-Parani-Gaan in Bangladeshi. Some of our Christmas carols like “Silent Night, Holy Night” could have been a lullaby to baby Jesus. Dating even further back, a Babylonian lullaby about 4000 years old was found inscribed on a clay tablet.

Our Rich Heritage of Hindi Loris

Undoubtedly, there has been an inadequate exploration of the rich treasure of lullabies in multilingual Indian literature and folk songs. Loris of Indian film songs have a significant contribution to that wealth. They have expressed love, pathos, social adversities, abounding hopes, depressing despairs, panoramic nature, spiritual insightfulness, and a vast gamut of a mother’s powerfully emotional feelings. I was disappointed to see that an exhaustive article on the subject as in National Geographic did not make any mention of Indian lullabies. It also is noteworthy that some of the most outstanding lullabies have been written by men, who often distance themselves from the babies in our society. Yes, men too, can connect to this chorus at home and around. I remember many lullabies that my father sang before I slept. 

Modus Operandi of a Lullaby

It is marvelous, mysterious, and miraculous! The baby gets reassured, the mother relieved, and both of them feel ready to sleep at its end. As proposed by Freud, the baby is not afraid of the dark but has isolation fear, while the mother herself also needs some privacy with the baby. As the baby wants to be lulled to sleep (that is why it is called lullaby), the mother also wants to feel the fulfillment of her maternal connection. It is therefore not uncommon to see a mother falling asleep even before the baby. A lullaby supports the spirit, psychology, and resilience in adversity, all of which have a therapeutic value. It is simple, repetitive, rhythmic, and soothing. A father or a sibling can subsequently substitute for the mother, thus widening the base of the bond. A joint presence of both parents at the sleeping time of the baby generates reassuring accountability and dependability in both parents. The baby needs this support to be self-supporting later in life.

Modern Science Extends Applications of the Lullaby Beyond Babies and in Covid-19

Based on the concept that a lullaby has a therapeutic value before sleep, it has been also applied in hospice patients as well as in premature or sick children. Childhood and old age are often placed on comparable rungs of the same ladder of life so a lullaby can bring extra comfort to both, from a state of wakefulness to drowsiness and even death as in hospice patients.

Laura Cirreli, Professor of Developmental Psychology at the University of Toronto who studies the Science of Maternal Song, has reported a decreased level of stress in both mother and baby induced by warm gentle rocking. There is also a lullaby project conducted by Carnegie Hall in New York City. Samuel Mehr, Director of Harvard University’s Music Lab, asked 29,000 participants to listen to 118 variegated songs to evaluate their healing power. “Statistically, people are most consistent in identifying lullabies,” he said. 

During the isolation of children from working mothers as in the covid-19 period, mothers sang their lullabies from hospitals and working stations using zoom to comfort their children sleeping at home. What a wonderful use of technology to transmit continuing love and care to the young ones!

Going back to our own country India, Jagdish Chandra Bose (1858-23) proved the comforting effect of music even on plants. Amar Bose (1929-13), who fathered the wireless passage of sound, substantiates that a lullaby functions exactly on the same principle! The sound of music is ever so sound. We better keep our lullabies awake.


Bhagirath Majmudar, M.D. is an Emeritus Professor of Pathology and Gynecology-Obstetrics at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. Additionally, he is a priest, poet, playwright, Sanskrit Visharada, and Jagannath Sanskrit Scholar. He can be contacted at bmajmud1962@gmail.com. 


 

The sky (Image by Saumya Balasubramanian)

My Son’s Pandemic Ponderings: Why is Our Sky Not Green?

Due to the pandemic, my son and I have been thrown together a lot more than usual. Walks take on a gentle curious hue that is relished by us both. He is definitely more energetic than I am, but somehow I seem to thrive in the glow of his energy too, so all is well. Our walks are often talk-fests. The elementary school-going son, like many children his age, pulls a full why-wagon with him wherever he goes. The questions tumble out with ease, and can be anywhere on the spectrum:

They are all fair game.

Sunset (Image by Saumya Balasubramanian)
Sunset (Image by Saumya Balasubramanian)

Sometimes, of course, his questions chip away at the stoutest of theories. For instance, a few years ago, as we mooned about the hills overlooking the bay at sunset and taking in the shades of pinks, oranges, blues, grays, purples, and reds, he said, Why is the sunset never green?

Now, that is a perfectly valid question with a perfectly scientific answer. However, it had me stumped, for it never occurred to me to ask that particular question. I remember being awed a few years ago when the children had drawn rust and pink-colored skies when asked to imagine a sky for their imaginary world. 

How often do we take the time to question things that just are? It is thanks to the young and curious minds of the children that I stop to ponder about these things and enjoy the joy of wonder.

In the Pale Blue Dot by Carl Sagan, he comes up with a marvelous chapter on determining the planetary world one is in simply based on the color of the sky. This is the kind of leap in imagination, where only deep thought and research can take you, and here he was, simply giving it away in a book. All his marvelous thought processes, his wonder of the world, his eternal curiosity, and scientific rigor just laid out on a page so we could embrace it in one simple reading. 

“The color of the sky characterizes the world. Plop me down on any planet in the Solar System, without seeing the gravity, without glimpsing the ground, let me take a look at the sun and the sky, and I can, I think, pretty well tell you where I am, That familiar shade of blue, interrupted here and there by fleecy white clouds, is a signature of our world. “ – Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot

Pale Blue Dot
Pale Blue Dot

The essay, Sacred Black , in the book, Pale Blue Dot is well worth reading. He explains the reasoning behind the colors of the planets as we see them. He deduces the color of the sky based on the elements found in their atmospheres. 

  1. Venus, he says, probably has a red sky.
  2. Mars has a sky that is between ochre and pink much like the colors of the desert.
  3. Jupiter, Saturn – worlds with such giant atmospheres such that sunlight hardly penetrates it, have black skies. He talks about this bleak expanse of a sky being interrupted here and there by strokes of lightning in the thick mop of clouds surrounding the planets. This image does make for a sober shiver for someone who loves the sky and its myriad attractions. Imagine, not being able to see the stars, the sun, or anything beyond the clouds.
  4. Uranus & Neptune have an uncanny, austere blue color. The distant sunlight reaches a comparatively clean atmosphere of hydrogen, helium, and methane in these planets. The skies may be blue or green at a certain depth resulting in an aquamarine or an ‘unearthly blue’.

He shows us how in the absence of an atmosphere, an inky deep purple is all there is – how our planet is only a pale blue dot floating in an inky void illumined by a ray of light from the sun. Our eyes may not show us green colors in the sky at sunset, but it does detect plenty of green in the flora around us. The colors in the visible spectrum of light make for a marvelous world, but what if our eyes had evolved differently? How would life have been? 

I read bits and pieces of the chapter to the son one evening, and he had that look of intense concentration as if imagining a hundred worlds with thousands of possibilities of the sky. When I smiled at the end and said, ‘So, how do you like it?”

He grinned his approval and said, “Awesome!”

In June 2014, Mangalyaan, launched by India in November 2013, became the first Asian orbiter to stay in Martian orbit, and sent many high-resolution images from the Martian orbit for us to analyze. The Martian Magic continues with the rovers now on Mars. From the earliest times of ancient civilizations, the ‘wanderers’ have enthralled mankind. Behaving differently from the thousands of stars visible to the naked eye, the planets were the first teasers on a long journey through Aryabhatta, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei to Mars missions and rovers. The first puzzle in understanding the cosmos and our place in it.

A few days later, the son came charging into the room in the middle of his school day – “Amma! Amma! You will like this. I just came to tell you this! The Mars landing just happened!”

There is something special in being able to watch the Mars Perseverance Rover land on Mars during the day with your fellow explorer. The video attests to Carl Sagan’s deductions. The Martian atmosphere does look pinkish red with heavily desert hues. The son & I looked outside at the beautiful blue sky with reassuringly white clouds flitting by. We were admiring the clouds in the Bay Area in California while thinking of Mangalyaan launched from India. The missions launched from halfway across the world. The cosmic arena is truly a unifier – to design and perceive the grand universe, the scale of the experiments requires international co-operation as the International Space Station, LIGO experiments, and the Mars pictures attest.

Flora and fauna (Image by Saumya Balasubramanian)
Flora and fauna (Image by Saumya Balasubramanian)

Science took us to Mars with the reddish sky, but it was the blue sky with white clouds that enabled us to dream.

Throughout the following week, the little cosmologist in the house interspersed our Earthly life with Mars-ly anecdotes and clips. 

One evening, we sat together huddled up, watching pictures stitched together from the 3 Mars rovers: Opportunity, Curiosity, Perseverance. Barren desert landscapes, not unlike those in the Sahara desert or the Arizonian deserts, are all the rovers could see. 

The one thing that the Martian landscape reinforces to me, is that our Earth is a beautiful planet – so vast in its diversity, and lifeforms. The Martian pictures make me want to go out and sigh and fall in love, look after, and cherish the one planet we can thrive on. To admire the miracle that is every tree, every lake, every cloud, every blade of grass, and every flower. 

“A blade of grass is a commonplace on Earth; it would be a miracle on Mars. “ – Carl Sagan

If Martian 4K resolution images have taught me anything, it is to buckle down and look after the one planet we do have. I talk to my son about this – It is his generation that will adopt the new skies. 


Saumya Balasubramanian writes regularly at nourishncherish.wordpress.com. Some of her articles have been published in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Hindu, and India Currents. She lives with her family in the Bay Area where she lilts along savoring the ability to find humor in everyday life and finding joy in the little things.


 

Siri with her family (Image by Author)

Siri’s Journey With Autism During the Pandemic

This past year has been a series of ups and downs. My daughter Siri, who has Autism and requires routine, has had to adjust to the changing world around her. Every April during Autism Awareness Month, I share my experience as Siri’s mother and our challenges, so that other parents going through something similar can resonate with our stories and see progress.

Before the pandemic arrived, Siri was busy with many activities like functional fitness, boxing, ice-skating, horse riding, and her internship at Goodwill. She is the type of girl who loves to learn new skills and looks for opportunities to keep herself busy.

Siri boxing before the pandemic (Image by Author)

Naturally, when the pandemic began, we were very worried. We knew that if Siri was bored, she would turn to food as an unhealthy crutch.

To our astonishment, on the third or fourth day into the lockdown period, Siri completely stopped eating and only sought a couple of snacks a day. With both her younger brothers back home during the pandemic, Siri started enjoying their presence in the house. She happily watched them do their zoom classes and ate what they cooked and shared with her. Eventually, we started seeing her shirts and pants fall off her shoulder and hips – all her clothes were extremely loose. We checked with her physician and she said that as long as Siri looks happy, healthy, and is sleeping throughout the night, that we should not worry.

Siri with her mother, Swathi. (Image by Author)
Siri with her mother, Swathi. (Image by Author)

She was so independent that we felt like she had already moved out. The girl who would make her presence known by being loud or pacing when bored had suddenly changed. At one point, we were concerned because we wouldn’t see her often. And when we did see her coming out of her room, she would be happy and humming a tune. She even gave spontaneous hugs to me!

Since her anxiety was at a lower level, I began to teach Siri new skills. We began with some stitching using easy, simple, and small steps. I trained her to make masks and we donated 150 to Saddleback Church in Los Angeles. Siri was so happy to cut the fabric, thread in the needle, and stitch in the way I wanted her to. Her beautiful face glowed as she was packed the masks with a handwritten card inserted in each bag. She started showing interest in drawing and painting too. Later on, we introduced Siri to zoom classes where she was able to do some Bollywood dance, artwork, and also music. 

We, along with a few more like-minded families with special needs kids are working on a community in Sonoma County. We want her, and children like her, to live full, healthy lives without needing their parents for support. In pursuit of this, Clearwater Ranch is developing a program for adults like Siri. Siri, along with three more special-needs young women, will be moving into a house on the ranch by the end of this year. 

Since Siri’s ability to understand the language is affected greatly by her Autism, we are teaching her about her move by taking her to the ranch every other week. We do drive-thru tours for potential families interested in joining us. We explain the process by showing the homes and talking about the future plans for the ranch. 

Our plans for Siri do not stop once she transitions to a new place. Fortunately, this beautiful piece of property sits on an 84acres of land where we plan to develop programs to provide skills to the special-needs residents. We plan to teach them weaving, candle and soap making, painting, farming, pottery, while continuing to focus on their fitness and recreation activities too.   

Siri’s future is bright and promising! 

Join us by following her journey via her Social Media:

FB – https://bit.ly/3deYJ59

IG – https://bit.ly/3g9gAvV 

LI – https://bit.ly/3degilK

YouTube – https://bit.ly/3uOjY3z

Siri’s online business: www.DesignsBySiri.com

Siri’s future home: www.CRanch.net


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


 

Why Father’s Day Felt Different

This year father’s day felt different. And I don’t mean in the way we celebrate it, because like others I was guilty of incessantly googling many creative and indoor ideas that were floating on the internet, but in its deep sentiment and what it represented. For me this year, I celebrated the often overlooked tenderness in fathers.

Australian poet Pam Brown once wrote, “Dads are most ordinary men turned by love into heroes, adventurers, story-tellers, and singers of song.”  I am head-over-heels about my own father. I love fathers in all their forms and shapes because there is nothing more appealing than to see a man’s tenderness crawl out of him in the moments least expected. And fatherhood, if nothing else, will do that to a man.

Being raised by a single father myself, I have seen the tenderness that is possible from a father, I have come face to face with the fact that gender does not decide how one loves and that such love can achieve a lot. I have always celebrated my own father’s tenderness, but in the past few months, my observation of acquaintances, friends, and family has been unique. The Pandemic has given a new face to fatherhood, that of a deeply involved state of participation, frustration, and a redefined idea of love and responsibility.

Within the Indian and even the Indian American social constructs, the father is still seen as the patriarch, the provider. Life in America, compared to India, gives fathers more chances to be involved in the household. They cook, clean, do the dishes, change diapers, drive children to school, and be part of many more practical child raising opportunities. And yet, many fathers do not know the ins and outs of day to day life with children of all ages. It is one thing to do this part-time and another to provide and nurture at the same time, around the clock without any breaks.

A friend whose wife recently had her second child confided in me recently about such an experience. Last time around even though having a newborn was a life change, her husband went back to his life after the paternity leave. But this time, his understanding of the sanctity and struggles of the postpartum period have made him see his own role as a father in a deeper light.

And there are other fathers who get to see the juggle of the children at home, the never-ending labor of love, with no escape. Fathers who are now spending time with teenagers who are off to college in the next few years, their own kids who in the pre-pandemic world had no time to see them, but now they cherish three home-cooked meals together.

And then there are the empty nesters, fathers who now see closely, the pain of the long days of mothers who spent a big part of their adult lives serving children, now starting a new life.

But make no mistake, fathers are losing their minds. They have never done this before and for the first time, they can’t wait for the work alarm to ring at five am again. But meanwhile, they are pushed to their limits. They are exhausted. All they want is a drink with a friend to escape this elevated chaos called the family life. They have children climbing on their sore backs and grumpy teenagers endlessly debating political subjects. And through these sighs and screams, the impatience for the days to end, and passing many a sulky and under-productive day, their hearts have opened, their roles have expanded, and they continue to see the new dimensions and expressions of tenderness. So I hope all the fathers out there did get that drink, whether it was in the bathroom or in the attic, that they were celebrated, because this year they deserved it, more than ever.

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.

Without My Dad

This is the first Father’s Day without my dad. 

I reflect on his advice, “Son, don’t hate. Never be a victim and give in to anger.”  

Advice that could not be more relevant in today’s political climate. I see my father’s importance and the positive role he played in my upbringing, my sense of self, and my commitment to my work.  

To fully appreciate the philosophy behind dad’s life, you need to know one thing about him – he lived a life with an Attitude of Gratitude

He raised us not to feel entitled. We learned, early on, the subtle joys of appreciating the good in our lives with daily prayers of thanks. It was a common bond that connected us as family.

He taught us to never compromise on our values and principles and to take accountability. He pushed people to do their best and pushed us outside of our comfort zones, which really helped us grow. He said “We are humans and mistakes can be made. But we’re not going to make mistakes of character or integrity.”

When other fathers were bragging about their wealth, their children’s grades, clothes, and success, dad never boasted. He said “be a good human being in life,” and that is all that will matter in the end. He brought everybody together.

Dad was a caring, thoughtful, and gracious man. He was always quick to recognize and express his admiration for the skills and accomplishments of those around him. Dad believed that giving back to the community was of utmost importance. This was demonstrated by his extensive involvement in civic and community activities.

I am filled with incalculable joy at the thought of the many lives my dad touched. Reflecting on his life reminds me of all the ways my father is still with me after death. I am not without my dad – I am filled with his wisdom and values and while I live, so does he.

Sunil Tolani is the CEO of Prince Organization and a devoted son to his father, Arjan Tolani. He writes this in memoriam of his father, who inspired him to be the person he is today.

Complexity of a Modern Father

To be a FATHER in the “yesteryears” was easy because he heard only “yes” to every command he gave. Easy but not healthy. It actually kept our culture somewhat stagnant by keeping a father walled off. On the contrary, I consider the modern father to be a lot luckier. 

Education is no more gender-specific.

Father may know the best” but not on all subjects and matters. Women of today, plunge, and successfully so, into almost every sphere of study. Medicine, Law, Technology, Aerospace Engineering, whatever profession you can name, has seen an increase in female involvement.

A few years back, I questioned my medical students about an anecdotal enigma of a young man who was hit on the head by an automobile and was admitted to the ICU.

The Neurosurgeon looked at the patient and exclaimed in agony, “ This is my son!”

The young man, however, said, “This is not my Father.”

“How is that?” I asked the class.

What the older generation of the medical students could not answer was at once answered by the current generation. The Neurosurgeon was his MOTHER.

Hopefully, we should hear more dialogues like, “ Son, I do not know the answer to your science question. Go ask your mom.” With joint help from both parents, children will learn a lot more about not being gender specific., 

Feeding the family can ALSO be a father’s privilege since both parents are usually working.

This applies to other household responsibilities like changing the diapers, bathing children, nursing them when they are sick, etc. Why should hungry, sick, or hurting children always have to run to the mother? My daughter, when a child, always wanted me to shampoo her hair. I am very happy to have done that because that privilege was taken away from me when she grew up.

At the time of our marriage, my wife was busy with her Ph.D. studies. I went to India by myself to buy the wedding clothes and the matching accessories for the occasion. Throughout my journey, I was busy praying that my choice of purchase met her approval!

The gendered myth relating to right and left brain dominance needs to be readjusted.

Boys and girls, alike, gravitate to STEM in their educational upbringing. We need to dispel the earlier notion that boys should lean on science and girls are good only for arts. These young people are our future parents who will need to learn and teach both in their real life. It should be remembered that Corpus Callosum, the wide web connecting the two brains, is going to be the focus of our future, controlling and coordinating the functions of both cerebral hemispheres. 

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) will need STEAM (A for Arts) to nurture the coordinated growth of our future generations. 

 What could be the main reason why children rush to their Mother when in need?

A modern father has to effectively incorporate both sides of his brain, so that children do not differentiate between the two parents. Our concept of Lord Shiva as an Ardhanaarishwara (Half man and half woman) was conceived at a magnificent moment of this perception. The word female incorporates the male in its body anyway.

When the roles of father and mother get reasonably reversible, fathers will feel fortunate to experience their children in an unprecedented way. At that point in time, there may not be separate celebrations of Father’s and Mother’s Days but a combined Parent’s Day, much to the chagrin of the Business community.  

Till then, have a meaningful Father’s Day!

Bhagirath Majmudar, M.D. is an Emeritus Professor of Pathology and Gynecology-Obstetrics at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. Additionally, he is a poet, playwright, Sanskrit scholar, philosopher, and a priest who has conducted about 400 Weddings, mainly Interfaith.

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.