When the boys left for college, I expected occasional phone calls, but mostly radio silence. To my surprise and delight, four-way text chatter populated the space between phone calls — some of it serious, but most consisting of jokes, photos, cat videos, and a commitment to send increasingly outrageous puns (pun-upmanship?).
Occasionally, they’d forward a post from a particular Facebook group, one good-naturedly dedicated to the humorous little absurdities of South Asian family life. Given that I, like my kids, grew up in the U.S., these posts reminded me more of my own parents’ actions than mine — but one caught me off guard:
If your mom doesn’t randomly bring you cut fruit, is she even your mom?
I laughed, recognizing myself instantly. While the boys were growing up, I’d routinely pop into the kitchen, chop up fruit, and take heaping bowls to their desks as they studied, or to the sofa as they relaxed and watched television. While I hadn’t known this was common across South Asian families, I certainly remembered my own mother doing the same for me, selecting the ripest, juiciest apples, oranges, mangoes, pears.
With the boys largely absent over the last two years, our fruit needs dwindled — a few apples and oranges, maybe a pear or two, were a sufficient week’s supply for the two of us. And now that they’ve returned, the countertop is overflowing again, and the fridge, burgeoning with Costco cartons of blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries.
Without thinking about it, I’ve resumed fruit duty. Now, though, I’m more conscious of what I didn’t fully realize before — that the deliveries were tiny moments for connection and encouragement. Sometimes, a window opened briefly to reveal a detail about challenges or struggles they faced — to be filed away for revisitation at the right time.
To be present in their daily lives once again is an unforeseen blessing. When they returned home suddenly in March, it seemed we all slipped backward in time. Once again, the house was brimming with conversation and laundry and people to be fed (pun-demonium?). Once again, the depletion of food — and the need to replenish it — was constant and unrelenting.
But this time, other than providing food and fruit, there’s little for me to do for them. The boys are on their own schedule — and specifically, on Pacific time to keep up with university classes and meetings in California. Our home thrums with activity almost 24 hours a day, as they wind down at three a.m., and we wake before seven. Throughout the afternoon and evening, I overhear snippets of Zoom conferences on physics formulas and machine-learning data sets, health care economics and Cambodian war crime tribunals.
They are navigating their own lives, and I’m grateful to witness their competence and resilience as the world turns upside-down. Over dinner, or later in the night over cards, we rove through pandemic news, as well as science, research, books, philanthropy. Sometimes we grieve together for all they are missing, all they have lost — graduations, milestones, friends, normalcy.
While we know matters are profoundly serious, the boys nevertheless remind us to play and laugh during this historic juncture (the pun-demic?). And as the weeks pass, I am realizing that time has not actually reversed, but rather, traced a figure eight.
Watching these two adults, so strong and confident and optimistic, I feel that I have become the uncertain one, the student. My writing journey still feels new to me, and I often question whether I’m gaining a foothold or making progress. They check in with me, press me about my goals for the week, ask why I’m puttering around the house instead of writing. When I become too self-critical, they reprimand me gently.
A few days ago, my younger son approached and set a bowl of cut pears on my desk. I looked up from my computer, a little disoriented, and saw his radiant smile. You’re doing great, Mama, he whispered, then slipped away.
Photo by Ralph Daily, Creative Commons license via Flickr. Post by Dheepa Maturi.
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