When I called home to talk to my mom this morning, she said that she had some “secret good news” to share (technically, I am sharing a “secret” here, and I am sure she will forgive me for it if she ever came to know). My Bolly-brain is programmed to associate “good news” with pregnancy, but she confirmed that no one in the family is pregnant at the moment. However, my mom told me that she has decided to take swimming lessons.
As I was walking to the library later today, I kept thinking about what might have prompted my mom to make this decision one fine morning. She is clearly no aspiring deep sea diver or Mrs. India contestant. She is certainly not planning to join Bollywood. It’s not that she had some deep fascination for water sports. I tried getting inside her head and think like she would, but I failed. So I decided to call her back.
It turns out that her reason was pretty simple. She wanted to learn something she has never learned before, so that her brain doesn’t rust or doesn’t forget what it is like learning a new skill.
Wow. That was deep and profound.
I mean, she could have tried learning baking, that would be close to what she already knows. She could learn driving, but then we are one of the extinct middle class families in this burgeoning, capitalistic-transforming India who doesn’t own a car, out of choice. She could have done any number of things within her comfort zone. But I know this is not her comfort zone. You know why?
Because she is already looking for costumes that would cover her limbs fully. She got rid of her hesitation and confided in a friend, whose daughter is a swimmer and knows where to buy costumes. This is no costume, tank top, or skirt wearing mom. With all those not toned muscles, unshed fat and birthmarks from two baby deliveries, I know she will have enough issues getting used to a swimming dress.
Because she told me that she has decided not to go to the nearby club. It is full of gundaas, unemployed men who gather around the area and smoke cigarettes. She has chosen to go to a safer pool with evening shifts for women that will add an hour to her commute.
Because she has a husband who is more paranoid than appreciative of his family members taking on challenges. I know that firsthand.
“I have figured out a way to deal with him. I told him that if I don’t like it or don’t learn in 2-3 weeks, I will stop going.”
“And will you really stop going?”, I asked.
“Of course not. I’ll make sure I learn it in 2-3 weeks, or at least tell him so.” She was radiating excitement and confidence.
I still had a hard time taking it all in. I mean, she has always had a protected life, never went outside to earn, raised two kids as best as she could, rarely got into a fight with the neighbors, never boarded a plane (and still believes that it is theoretically possible to get on a wrong plane, for which, she has avoided coming to meet me), doesn’t know Washington state from Washington DC, and has enough to keep her busy all day. She is anything but bored. A woman in her late forties seldom develops a hobby one fine day. She could be perfectly happy watching movies and reading books if she wanted to. Why swimming?
It struck me all the more because I am a big coward in certain ways. I am not at all fond of water. In fact, I dislike doing anything that is not on land. So I am fine with driving and running and dancing, but not with sky diving, bungee jumping, or swimming. I love the oceans, but only from a distance. I don’t like the feeling I get when I am in water. I could imagine myself learning a number of things, but never swimming. At 31, I feel like I am too old to be learning new things. I sleep on the same side of the bed every day, I use the same brand of fragrant candles, I have used the same phone (a flip phone, not a smart phone) for 6 plus years now, I have had the same haircut, I order the same coffee at Starbucks and the same chicken burrito bowl to go (no beans, only veggies, white rice, mild salsa, guac on the side, with just a hint of corn, sour cream, and cheese, but no lettuce) at Chipotle, and I do the same thing before going to sleep every night (play online scrabble, that is). I can feel that I am getting old, predictable and boring. The last thing I would imagine doing is getting rid of the hesitation about my body image (and I am neither approaching 50, nor have delivered babies), don a costume, and dive into the water.
You know, I was always picking up a fight with my mom while growing up; dad was more the role model for me. My dad’s achievements were more visible to me then (his promotions, professional achievements, visit to China, etc.), but I always thought of my mom as a quiet person who would seldom take risks. Of course I was a ten year old who had no idea about what it takes to keep a family glued together. As I grew older, I learned to appreciate my mom much more. She is this really quiet person who would seldom contradict anyone and would cry watching Rajesh Khanna die in a movie, but every now and then, she would show streaks of fieriness, do something brave, something so not like her, and surprise me and make me respect her more and more. And as far as not contradicting dad when he is acting irrational, I once asked her why does she usually let dad rant and argue?
“I choose my battles, I choose what is worth my time and what is not.”
Her reply had changed my world view all those years ago, and showed me how not be a passive victim of a situation, but to actively decide what is worth my time and what is not. So sharp, so to the point, and so empowering. No tears, no drama, absolutely no sign of helplessness or weakness.
Mom, I hope you do take the plunge this time, and learn a new skill. You are already my hero.