|Left: Mom and brother. Center: Me. Right: 1st-grade teacher and fruit of oil painting class.|
“I don’t care if the Earth stops spinning, you have to sit down and practice piano for one hour.” This was one of my mom’s favorite statements (and one of my least favorite ones) when I was growing up. When I asked her why, she’d respond, “Because the sky is so high and you’re going to be married in the month of July.” Though I can assure you that my mom would care if the world ended, her statement expressed, in very few words, what she truly cared about, above all else: my brother and my success. The extremity of her statement helped put it in perspective with (everything else in) the world.
As a child, my mom was an Bharatnatyam dancer. Though she, like I eventually did, attended weekly rehearsals, she and I did it for different reasons. I did it because my mom made me; my mom did it because she was passionate about pursuing the art form. When she was fifteen, my mom’s family moved from Kolkata to Delhi and she was forced to quit dance classes. A mix of other family priorities and the inability to find a good teacher in their new town stripped my mom of the one thing for which she cared so deeply.
But she wasn’t going to let this be the end.
Life went on, and thirty years ago, my mom moved to America. I was born four years later and the year after that, my mom found the perfect dance teacher she had been searching for back in Delhi. My mom didn’t let me stop her from dancing. She took me to her lessons, where I was propped up on a washing machine to watch her and receive a few cheerios between each set. Two years after I was born, my mom danced while pregnant with my brother.
Until we were in high school, my mom was a stay-at-home one. She gave up a professional career for one in raising her children the way she felt was best. She prepared us for vocabulary quizzes, watched us do our homework and drove us to an ever-growing list of extracurricular activities from piano to soccer to dance to oil painting to singing lessons to the rest of the superset.
And still, somehow, she continued dancing.
When I was ten and my brother was seven, my mom, at age thirty-seven, performed her Arangetram. In Indian Classical Dance, the Arangetram is a dancer’s first official solo dance recital and demonstrates a significant achievement in the art. It follows a specific two-hour format.
Her longtime dream finally came true.
Three weeks ago, I received my first rejection letter from a children’s book publisher. While the letter itself is a nice one (“Presents an all-too-common story in such a unique way, and with a really heartwarming message at its core…” “…grateful for the chance to consider it”), the overall message of the letter was not the one I wanted to hear (“…unfortunately with our relatively small list we’re unable to take it on at this time”).
The rejection has been difficult for me. I initially couldn’t help but question the worth it-ness of this thing that I don’t have to do. While I care deeply about the manuscript and publication, I was overwhelmed with what I gave up by means of other activities, random events, relaxation and time with friends in order to create it. I reminded myself that this is what it will look like, for every future manuscript, at every phase of my life.
|Ocean Beach at sunset|
Still grappling with the reality, last Monday, I went to the ocean in search of myself. It was a simple scene. After a while, it became clear to me that I needed to create a simple scene for my life. It’s impossible to care for — to put the same amount of time and effort into — everything. I forced myself to determine what five things in this world I care about most, an exercise inspired by a wise friend. Five because I want to be able to hold them in one hand. To clench them tightly in one fist. What was I willing to give up? What does my life — my happiness and my personal sense of success — require? I didn’t leave until I was happy with the list, with a still to-be-determined order or priority:
- Family + closest friends
Given a choice between something else and something on the list I know that I care more about the thing on the list. And in this case, it means submitting to another publisher, and another and another for however many times is necessary for this manuscript, and for each manuscript.
What makes my mom’s realized dream an inspiring one is that it wasn’t realized fortuitously. There was no unforeseeable “lucky break,” no industry bubble, no market boom. Her dream came true because she, in her mid-twenties, determined what few things in this world she truly cared about. She didn’t have to dance. She didn’t have to commit her children to a slew of activities. She didn’t have to quit her job. She made big, scary trade offs. And because she chose the right things, the ones that mattered the most to her, she was able to persevere. She continues to dance, and in fact, my brother and I will watch her perform in a show next weekend.
This Mother’s Day, I’m thankful for a lady who has not only cared for me above so much else, but who also, maybe more importantly, has taught me how to care about the special things in my life.