Je m’appelle…

Hello world! Or hello 825 followers if I’m being more precise! First post in over a month but who’s counting? Are you counting? I hope so.

A lot has happened since we chatted last. Some work. Some home. Mostly TV. More to come on that later.

Today’s post is about my name. Yep. Mi nombre. A few weeks ago my daughter’s boyfriend (adorable guy), asked if he could interview me about my first generation childhood. He said it’d take an hour and he’d ask me questions about my childhood, adolescence, etc. My answer was yes, of course. An hour to talk about myself as if I was on Oprah (not the new Super Sunday version…the old 4pm talk show version)? Who would say no to this? Not me. Not the gal who literally started a blog thinking people were dying to know crap I did and do and think about. Anyway it was so much fun. He promised to share the final version of it with me and if it’s flattering and makes me out of be some national Indian treasure, I’ll share it with you.

I’m telling you about the interview for two reasons. 1) to show off, obviously 2) because it got me thinking about my childhood. I don’t think I’ve ever spent that much time talking about how I grew up since…well since I started dating my husband and he grilled me like the FBI. But lately, something has been coming up. For some reason, in the past year, maybe 2 years – I’ve gotten a lot of questions about my name. Specifically…how my name is pronounced. Even more specifically – how I’m letting people mispronounce my name.

My name is Neha.

It’s an old-school Indian name derived from the Sanskrit version (Sneha). It means love and tenderness – which will come as a big surprise to those who usually use other words to describe me. You know who you are. In the proper Indian dialect (choose your favorite), it’s pronounced Neigh-Ha. Neigh…like what horses say, and a very soft ha. Not like a karate chop HA! That’s how my very young, wonderful parents imagined my name being said all over India.

Except my young, wonderful parents didn’t stay in India. They hauled ass to the USA. Jackson Heights, Queens to be exact – in 1979ish. To get the exact date I’d have to call my mother and disclose why I need this info, to which she’d say I’m giving super personal info to strangers on the internet who want to kill me. True story. My mother thinks the internet is out to get me. She’s right of course.

Let me set the stage. Jackson Heights today is not what Jackson Heights of the late 70s/early 80s was. Today, there’s so many Indian immigrants that have settled there, they call parts of it Little India. Back then it was still mostly immigrants, but there was a broader mix – Chinese, African, Puerto Rican, and some Italian and Irish to balance it out. In today’s Jackson Heights – my young self would have had other Nehas to mix and mingle with. My young self would have gone to a school full of other people that looked, talked, lived like me. But that’s not how it was.

My dad was a pharmacist – the reason we came to the US was for his job. My mom was a teacher in India but her certifications weren’t accepted here, so she got some random part-time work. My parents did one thing. They worked. They didn’t socialize. They didn’t have hobbies. They worked. I had a job too. One job. School. That’s all I had to do. My entire focus was school (and TV. Indians love TV. It’s a stereotype I know, but it’s also true). As was the case for most of my elementary and middle school life, I was the only Indian in my classes – and sometimes in the school.

I don’t remember the first time I said my name to someone outside my family. I wish I did. I wish I could remember how and why my name began being pronounced like Leah…as if it was spelled Neah…Knee-ya. It all makes sense. I’m sure I wanted to fit in. I’m sure I wanted to not be different, but I don’t remember making a calculated effort to change how people pronounce my name. But maybe I did. I definitely wanted to assimilate. I wanted to dress like everyone else, eat like everyone else (lost cause), date like everyone else. My idea of a perfect boy was a blonde, blue-eyed dude with a one syllable name. Speaking of names, I would have given up a limb to be called Kelly, Jane or some other really white name, so maybe this was the closest fix. I just wish I could remember that happening. I probably need some deep therapy to remember, but the irony is that I remember other things really well from that time. The Saturday night line-up…. Dance Fever followed by Love Boat and ending with Fantasy Island. I remember the slice of pizza my mom got me every Friday after school – this was early 80s NYC pizza. Big. Flat. Foldable. I remember getting a Rubix’s Cube. It was my parent’s favorite kind of toy. Quiet, cheap, and portable. I remember all kinds of useless info. The moment that changed the way people said my name? Not so much.

I’m going to interrupt this line of thought for a quick moment. One of the things I get asked often when i’m trying to explain why my name is pronounced the way it is, is this question,” well how does your family say your name? Do they use the wrong version too?” No. No they don’t use the “wrong” version. They don’t use any version. My family almost never, and I mean literally almost never, calls me by my given name. For the majority of my childhood I was known by a pet name – a loving moniker – Bittu. And it’s pronounced how it looks. Bit-To. It means “little one” or “little thing” or something like that. That’s what my parents, aunts and uncles called me. Once I had cousins old enough to talk, they called me Didi. Which means “big sister”. I know what you’re thinking…I’m a cousin, so why call me a sister? It gets even better. Now every member of the family calls me Didi, including my parents. Confusing, right? Listen – I can’t explain why all Indians are confusing – I can only explain the ways I’m confusing. Are you still with me? Are you over it? Bored? How many times have you checked your insta? Tell the truth. I just needed you to have some background since I assume you’re making a case in your head about why I’m a psycho.

So after Jackson Heights my parents moved us to the hub of diversity and inclusiveness known as Albany, NY. No offense if it’s gone through some major change and my sarcasm no longer applies. Remember when I said I was the only Indian in the school growing up? Well in Albany I was the only person of color in the entire school! And it was middle school to boot. Good times. Actually they were good times. I have been incredibly lucky in my life and have always met friends who helped me through. In 7th grade something amazing happened. Two Pakistani girls moved to town. Twins. Huma and Asma. We immediately became friends. They were my first ethnic friends! I mean I tried being friends with a girl named Chang back in Queens but she was allowed to hang out less than I was so it didn’t work. I enjoyed my white friends whose parents let them come to my house for hours with no issue. Anyway – back to my first brown friends. They had just moved here from London. Dad was a doctor and divorced (scandal!). They came to the US to be closer to his sister. They all had these amazing accents which somehow cancelled out their “otherness” and made them hugely popular. It didn’t hurt that they were loaded and had a house with a pool (a rare jewel in Albany). Their dad worked crazy hours and the girls were mostly home alone – another bonus. I loved their house. It was the opposite of my house. No one cooked. My house smelled of ginger and garlic all day. Their house smelled of…nothing. Heaven. The twins’ dad was the first person to tell me that I was mispronouncing my name. Lucky for me his daughters were mortified and told him to never to talk to me again and I moved on.

Actually my family moved on. We moved from Albany to Harrisburg, PA. Again, Harrisburg today has a full, lively Indian culture. Back then? Nada.

My dad believed any religion was good religion – so I went to a Catholic High School. It was diverse”ish”….but guess which population there was only one of? That’s right people. Still me representing all Indians. Dot. Not feather.

It wasn’t until I went to college in NYC, where I minored in religion (by mistake) and had to join a club as part of my Religions of the World class, that I met a whole bunch of Indians. I joined The South Asian Club for two long months. They were a nice bunch – most of them had grown-up in Queens, in the exact neighborhood that I’d started out in. Turns out Queens went full-on Indian soon after we moved out. On another side note – by this time I was dating a half Irish/half Ukrainian New Yorker. That’s right people, he’s blonde, blue-eyed and most of the time has a one syllable name. All my dreams really did come true. Anyway this new bunch of friends all tried to educate me on the correct way to say my name. I left soon after. Not just because I didn’t want to be lectured to, in all honesty, I left because they met on Friday mornings at 8am – which didn’t work with my Thursday night at Terminal Bar schedule.

I’ll speed up. The 90s were vapid. No one really cared what the origins of my name were or how to say it correctly. Easy peasy. Even the early 2,000s were a non-issue. It wasn’t really until the last few years when people started getting “woke” that it came up again.

The 20 year old intern who asked me gently if I knew how to correctly pronounce my name. Yes, thank you. Next. The well meaning friends who have other friends who pronounce the same name differently. Yes, I know. I get it. You feel like you’ve been doing me wrong. But you haven’t! I swear. It’s not you. It’s me. Well, technically it’s not me, it’s my name.

You know I even went through a real immersion-into-my-culture phase in high school. We would go to India every year at that time to visit relatives (relatives who also never ever called me by my formal name). I was way into the culture, the movies, the food, the language – all of it. I was a Junior in high school and all I wanted to do was be different. I was thrilled to show-off my funky jewelry and henna’d hand. But even during that time – I never thought about changing the way people say my name. What does that mean? What does that say about me? I dunno. I’m sure there’s a million ways to dissect it. To “help me”. I’ll have to find a therapist and have them give me an answer. Or maybe I’ll Google it.

My point is this…aren’t you glad you made it to the point! Mazel. You’re almost done. My point is that however it started, and whatever reason I did it or maybe someone just started calling me that and I went with it – whatever – it’s how I’d like you to pronounce my name. Yes, the wrong way.

Trust me – it’s a daily struggle. People say my name in all different ways. Correct, incorrect, messed up, etc. I don’t mind any of it. I met a wonderful friend last year through work who is French. We had a long discussion about this. She told me that in French – the direct translation of Je m’appelle isn’t “what is your name?”. The meaning is “what do you want to be called?”. I love that. Je m’appelle Neha (knee-ya).

In conclusion, I’m moving to France. Au revoir.

I like big hoops and I cannot lie…

I’ve never met a big earring I didn’t like. I can’t help it. And the queen of all big earrings is the hoop. Yes people, the hoops you stopped wearing in 1987. I never put mine away, they left high school with me and are alive and well in 2019! I also brought my smokey eye and love for tights with me from the 80s. It’s all working out fine for me.

Actually I got even bigger, hoopier hoops from a dear friend (love ya Julie!). These are the size of a baby’s head… in other words, perfect. I think the only other people still rocking them are the Real Housewives of NJ and maybe Jlo. I’m in good company.

Ok… go continue your Sunday. I just needed to tell you that right now.

Times they are a changin’

Last week we decided to make what seemed like a few small changes. We have a playset in the back yard that hadn’t been used in years. With a 17 year old about to graduate and a 12 year old boy obsessed with his trampoline, we thought it was a safe bet to get rid of it.

But as it was being taken down, piece by piece, I had a sinking feeling. I don’t remember being that emotional when we moved them from the crib to the bed – maybe because the rest of their room was still covered with toys and they were still a version of land locked with us at home.

The other change was a much needed refresh of my daughter’s room. New paint, new dresser, new bed. It was time to say goodbye to Ikea furniture that lasted her for more than a decade (held together by glue and prayer). But even when we were cleaning out the room it still felt like she would be in it. She picked the colors, the furniture, etc. It didn’t feel like an end, just the next step.

When the kids went from carseat to booster to nothing, we celebrated. When the training wheels came off, we celebrated. Even when my son left his elementary school last year, we celebrated. Our babies were amazing but we have a lot of fun with our kids. We live in a neighborhood that let our kids bike around, walk around and now drive around. We always felt so happy when they made another, brave step. Maybe because at the end of those steps they came back home. It didn’t feel like an end.

The playset being taken away felt like an end.

I know it’s normal and parents all through time have done this. I know there are bigger moments to come, graduation, weddings, etc. But this feels like a big movement. A home that doesn’t have little feet that’ll climb the slide. A home where I don’t stand at the kitchen sink and watch them play. Truth be told they haven’t touched it in years, and it’s a great big eyesore, which is why it was so easy to decide to get rid of it. Still it stung.

Here’s a look down memory lane and then the memory being demolished and taken away. Just kidding. Not really.
 

   
    
    
  

 

Ch Ch Changes

It’s October 3rd. September has been quite a month – full of surprises and change. Nothing new for us. The end of last year was full of changes for our family too. I quit my job after 8 years and started with a new company right before Christmas. My husband was offered a work-from-home gig and jumped on the chance to not commute after decades of trains, planes and automobiles.

Then January through July were a haze. I was traveling a lot for work, which was perfect because my husband and kids were getting into their new “being home together all the time routine”. I was all, “good luck with that, I’ll be in Newport Coast for the week. It’s you, the kids and Common Core. Bye!” It all worked out – no one died. We made it through the winter and spring and then summer was a lot of fun.

We were just hitting our stride and then boom. This is how our life works. For as long as I’ve known my husband, and well before we had our kids, this is our life works. We like to shake it up – or things get shaken up for us. Every change we’ve ever made has come from a small seed of an idea that we can’t let go of. Wanna get hitched and then have a baby in our 20s? Sure. Wanna move out of the city to a town we’ve never heard of? Why not! Wanna have another baby even though I’ll have to quit my job? Let’s do it!

Some changes were our whacked out decisions, and some changes were out of our control. We just had to roll with it.

For the past decade or so (this is not an exaggeration) – I’ve heard my husband say that he’d love to get out of his profession. That the world of finance isn’t making him happy. But because he’s a workhorse, and because it’s been good for our family, he would never walk away. He went from one stressful job to another and made the best of it. But then September started. And slowly a get-away plan emerged. His group was being shuffled and his position would now be based out of NYC. But the kids and i had gotten used to him being home. And he was loving the freedom of not being in an office. Not spending his life on a train. He was going to karate practices, doing pick-up after band rehearsal – getting to know his kids (and they got to know him) in a completely different way. Good, bad and ugly.

It was very much like my childhood. My parents had actual 9-5 jobs for a very short time, then my dad started his own business and never looked back. My mom was either helping him or home with us – actually they were both home with us. I don’t remember a time when my dad was out of the house for more than a few hours a day. It was unusual and wonderful. They were also risk takers. My dad was a pharmacist who could have made a very safe living his whole life, but he tried something different. He took a chance. The irony is that my entire childhood I thought of them as the most boring, risk-averse people – they drive their cars slow and live their lives quietly. Now I think they were absolutely bohemian (I feel my sister rolling her eyes). But really, they marched by the beat of their own drum. And it wasn’t all good – there were failures along with the successes – but they tried. They moved us around. They uprooted our schooling. Money went up and down – but it wasn’t boring. That’s for sure.

Maybe that’s why I’m not afraid of change. It doesn’t really rock my world. Not because I was unhappy before, or looking for the change – but because I know it’s not always bad. Or maybe I’m just dead inside. Just kiddin’.

Because I am my parent’s daughter, I’m constantly thinking of businesses that we can run. After my son was born and I decided to stay at home, I even started one of those businesses. A wedding planning company that did pretty well for three years. I loved it. I only stopped doing it because of another change that came out of nowhere. A phone call from an old colleague who had a job for me. A good job. The only caveat – it was two states away. A job that would force my husband to quit his well paying job if we took the move. Normal people would have laughed and said,”no way”.  But my husband and I,who wouldn’t know what to do in a casino if we tried, took another gamble. We said yes. And it worked out really really well. We loved our new town. The kids loved their new schools. My husband found another job right away, and I was happy with my new job. For a little while. But in the back of my mind, I was always thinking of what “we could start”. Even though my husband is the total opposite of my wandering nature, he got into it too. We would look at empty store fronts and imagine what we could do. We would have hour long discussions about the kinds of things that would work there. Then, like the lunatics we are, we’d even call the renters and ask how much the space cost. You know, normal stuff you do on a Friday night. While you and your husband are out at fancy restaurants and enjoying life, we’re researching franchise options and coming up with company names.

So last month when his job location shifted, we jumped on our chance. Well, I jumped and dragged him along. It was Friday night, we were doing our usual “this is a business that could work” routine – and he left the room to order pizza for the kids. That’s when I pulled the trigger for him and applied for all the legal paperwork for his new company. No joke. He came back into the living room and I said,” it’s done. You just started a company”. Instead of divorcing me like a normal person would do – he sat down and started a business plan. The only thing that saves my crazy is his crazy.

A month later, he’s ready to launch the website and dive in. And I would tell you what it is, but it’s not my gig. It’s his. I’m pretty sure he’ll go postal that I’ve even talked about it at all. But as always, I’ll take the gamble.

Manners, Manners

Manners are a big deal in my house. We use please and thank you so often that it sometimes sounds like a verbal tick. I grew up in a very quiet, polite home. My husband grew up in a very loud, polite home. His family wasn’t soft spoken (and isn’t) but they were always quick with a thank you. When we had kids we weren’t exactly sure what the “rules” of our house were going to be. We kinda just made it up as we went along. When we heard other parents talk about the things that their kids were allowed and not allowed to do – sometimes we felt horrible for the kids living through that regime, and sometimes we stole their ideas and rules. But not a lot of them. The only thing I really worried about was stranger danger and not-so-stranger danger. Other than that – we were open to most things. And unlike my parents house, our house is not quiet. We yell. We scream. We laugh. We cry. The full spectrum of the emotional rollercoaster is experienced on most days. We’re human afterall. 

When my daughter was born and I went back to work, we carefully picked a nanny we thought would follow our small list of rules. When we discovered that she was letting a 1 year gnaw on a hot dog while swinging in the park and then washing that down with a milk shake from an illegal visit to Mickey Ds – we were horrified. Just because we weren’t helicopter parents didn’t mean we wanted our kid eating that crap. We lived in NYC for goodness sake – the park was on the Upper East Side. Other nannies were bringing blenders to puree fresh smoothies in the park. If you’re wondering how she got caught, I’ll give you one word. Wrappers. My husband found the paraphernalia in our garbage of all places. Not only was she breaking our sad little list of rules, but she was a moron to boot. Suffice it to say, we gave her the boot. I was young back then and didn’t enjoy a verbal conflict like I do now, and my husband for all his tough guy demeanor can never be mean to anyone he pays for a service. So we let her go without addressing the problem. That’s how we rolled back then.

As she got older and then we had our boy, we held fast to only a few of those early family laws. I don’t want to alarm anyone but we never once bought a lock for our kitchen cabinets and our corners were never padded. Anywhere. My kids were allowed to play on the street. They were, and are, allowed to ride their bikes pretty freely. My daughter has navigated the public transit system alone – something a few of our adult friends don’t do. My son often rides a skateboard or scooter on busy roads. Do we worry about that stuff and pray for their safety? Yes we do. It’s like a full time job. Praying and worrying. But do we say they are “not allowed” to do that? Nope.

You know what they aren’t allowed to do? Speak rudely and not be polite. Manners are numero uno, followed by kindness, and just ahead of humor in terms of importance in our house. We don’t ask for something without a please before or after. When someone hands you something – anything – it should be followed by a thank you. In our house, if you are in the downstairs room all the way to the right and someone in the upstairs room all the way to the left sneezes, make sure they hear you say bless you. In fact you usually know if someone in the house is mad at you because you’ve sneezed and it was followed by silence. The horror!

I don’t go around expecting everyone to follow the same rules as our family, and I have no doubt that even with our politeness rules – my kids, my husband and I are are rude sometimes. Perfection – incase you haven’t read my blog before – isn’t what I’m aiming for in life. I’d like to just get through the day and maybe laugh a bit. Those are my goals. And to eat carbs with reckless abandon. But that’s another story.

And although I’d like to go on a tirade about how rude the world outside is, the truth is that most people are polite. For example, this morning on the train into work, in a very very packed car – a woman walked in with her two small kids and a big bag. Instead of looking down or staring out the window, no less than 4 people stood up to give them seats and offered to help with the bag. One man even offered to give a woman who’d gotten up for the other woman his own seat! I mean, come on! This is politeness gone wild. I would have happily given up my seat but I was stuck like a sardine next to an older Asian woman. It’s a well-known fact to those who ride a commuter rail that older Asian women do not give up seats. No sir. I don’t care if they are from China or India or Nepal. It’s not a racist observation. It’s a Continental truth. And since I will eventually become one of those older Asian women, I can say that. Although you can argue that if you are older, you deserve the seat. You’ve earned the seat. Asian or not. Fair enough.

I was just so happy to see that this group of strangers on the train took care of this woman. These were probably also the same people who would help a tourist in need without rolling their eyes, or wave when you let their car go first at an interection. These were good people. 

When the woman finally sat down and situated the kids, one of them sneezed, and there was a symphony of bless yous in the train car. I wasn’t surprised at all. 

Back to School Blurb

I love Facebook for many many reasons. Birthday love. Vacation pics galore. Inappropriate overshares. I love it all. I especially love the beginning of school. I love all the happy, shiny faces with their new backpacks and lunch boxes heading into the new school year. I only have one picture of me that resembles anything close to a back-to-school shot growing up. I’m not sure where it is. In a grocery bag in a closet somewhere, I think.

That’s not said with any judgement or vilification, my mother or father literally drove me to school from 1st through 12th grade (I don’t think I went to Kindergarten. Is that legal?). Of all the things I never did growing up (like eat mustard, cream cheese or sour cream), I never rode a school bus. I mean I did on school trips and things – but never in the morning or back home. I’m not sure why my parents decided to do this and I’ve never asked why. Although they were over protective about weird things and then completely carefree about other things. Example, I wasn’t allowed to watch most American horror movies because there were bad words and boobs and yet Bollywood with it’s love to violence and rape was a green light in our house. Confusing no?

So I never rode a big yellow bus. But don’t you worry. I learned all the bad words and met all the bad friends anyway. I just did it at the lunch table. Eating my peanut butter and strawberry jelly sandwich on my Brick Oven bread. If you were nice to me I’d let you share my snack, oh wait, there was no snack. Just a sandwich and a thermos full of OJ. In high school I started buying my lunch. Actually I bought crackers and milk and pocketed the money for other things. Food wasn’t as important as the new U2 cd coming out. I know better now.

Happy back to school to all you kiddos. Enjoy the gluten-free, organically grown/fed/butchered lunch that probably cost more than my outfit. Hope there’s square pizza and fried tater tots in your future!

The Tiger’s Mother

Tomorrow my first born starts her junior year of high school. She’s in her room right now excitedly packing for the morning and humming a happy tune. Ok, not really. But she is getting ready. I cannot believe that at the end of this year she’ll be 1) driving a motor vehicle 2) thinking about which college she wants to go to and 3) be on the edge of 17. Just like the white wing dove.
If you believe in astronomy, and I do, she’s a Scorpio. To a capital T.
I also happen to believe the Chinese calendar, she’s a Tiger in that one. A born leader. Brave and warm-hearted. Sensitive and easily hurt but also fiercely protective of those around them. Yeah, that’s about right. She’s all that. And more. 
But tomorrow she’ll just be my little baby, going off to 11th grade.
I’d like to show you a picture of her leaving the house in the morning, in her uniform, ready to face to world – but I won’t be allowed to take a pic. Tigers and Scorpions aren’t exactly easy to photography. But she can’t stop me from posting these! 
Here’s my world from 1998 to present. In a blink.

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