Paying Ode to Funambulists
18th Century, Latin: Funis ‘rope’ + Ambulare ‘to walk’+ -ist. = Funambulist (a tightrope walker)
First Encounters of the Third Kind
“Do you remember everything I’ve told you?” I ask my fiancé for the millionth time.
We are in the lobby of a Quality Inn near Pearson International. Four floors up, my parents await to meet their daughter and future son-in-law. This is the first time my Indian and Canadian realms will come face to face.
“Please touch their feet. It is a sign of respect and the way Elders bless their own in my culture,” I say using the words I had oft-repeated over the last month. “And PLEASE remember, we do NOT hug — EVER!”
He looks like he is going to throw up any second. Wanting him to keep his bodily fluids inside, I hold his cold, clammy hands, trying to comfort him.
“It’s fine,” I say out loud, more for myself than him.
“I know,” he responds. “Let’s do this.”
Holding hands, we amble to the elevator. I suddenly understand why Ben Stiller and Robert DeNiro’s Meet the Parents raked in tons of moolah.
The elevator arrives.
“Ready?” he asks me as we stand outside my parents’ room.
It has been over two years since I’ve seen my family. As my fiancé wipes the tears off my face, I knock the brown door that temporarily divides my Indian and Canadian worlds
The door opens. Amma and Appa, beautiful as ever, looking a little greyer and wrinkled than I last saw them.
We bend downwards to touch their feet but are stopped mid-bow by my father’s strong arms. Flashing his warmest smile that make his eyes shine, he embraces us tightly, holding us in his bear hug for a good ten seconds.
Smiles, tears, and laughter are exchanged, saying everything without saying anything. Finally, it dawns on me that, now, I share him with them.
“Hi, Puttumaree,” exclaims my mother upon holding her newly born grandchild. “Puttu-putta!”
Announcing that she’s taking Puttamma for a short walk, Amma leaves my semi-private hospital room.
“Hey!” whispers the man of the house, as soon as she’s out of earshot.
(I choose to call him that because he is — literally — the only man in the house!)
Conspiratorially, he asks me in hushed tones, “Why is Amma calling our child THAT word?”
Bewildered, I stare back at him. Slowly, I understand the reason for his annoyance at his mother-in-law. I burst out laughing. Now, apart from being annoyed, the man of the house looks confused. Poor him. How would he know! He is Atlantic Canadian. And I, South Indian.
“No. No. No,” I say nodding my head vigorously. “Puttu or Putta or Puttamma all mean ‘little one’ in Kannada. It is a term of endearment like munchkin. It is NOT what you are thinking in Spanish!”
Two years have passed since this moment. Amma continues to call the bundle of joy (and nerves and constant vigilance!) Putta, garnering a wince and a chuckle — in that order — from her Caucasian son-in-law. As for me, I’ve written a note to my future self that reads:
Narrate this at Puttamma’s wedding.
Sleep, Why Have Thee Forsaken Me?
“WHAT! Babies sleep in different rooms! That’s insane!” says my Indian mother, aghast when I tell her babies as young as three months are Ferberized, left to self-soothe themselves to sleep.
“Paaapa (Poor thing). Please, please don’t make her cry to sleep,” she implores dramatically.
Pondering internally, I wonder if I should record this moment and send it to a casting director. Perhaps, she could land a gig on one of those over the top soaps?
“Are you even listening?” she asks exasperatedly.
“WHAT! They sleep in the bed with you! For how long?” demands my distraught Canadian mother-in-law.
Yes, we were co-sleeping with Puttamma. No, sorry, her granddaughter!
“SIDS is dangerous!! And it will be realllly hard to get her out of your bed. I Ferberized both of mine!” she says as dramatically as my mother.
As I wonder if the drama and guilt genes become over-active due to motherhood, and, as I make a mental note of Googling the correlation, she continues to quote statistics.
“I really don’t think this is right!” she concludes.
I laugh in my head. Not at the situation. But at my naivety of involving both my mother and my mother-in-law, in this decision.
Finally, the man of the house and I navigate these troubled waters diplomatically by choosing what works best and, of course, safest for Puttamma. The grandmothers have calmed down after realizing that my training wheels are off. And we realized that with either co-sleeping or Ferberizing, sleep is scant for a newborn parent.
Funambulism – tightrope walking – is a fabulous act of skill. To see a funambulist at work, one might think of catching Cirque du Soleil in action. But, before booking tickets to their incredible show, save yourself some money and take a closer look! I am certain that just like me, in some capacity or another, you walk the tightrope in your everyday life. Often, as we deftly perform this act, we fixate on the challenging and nerve-wracking parts, forgetting the perks it brings along. For instance, if it hadn’t been for funambulists like us (and my colourful family, of course), then this piece wouldn’t have been written by me and devoured by you (perhaps, with a nice cup of Chai). So, the next time you are — metaphorically or physically — walking a tightrope, smile. Think of me and realize you aren’t alone. And remember to put the fun back in funambulism! I know that is just what I will be doing.