I opened the door to my 18 year old son’s room today, and stood there, flabbergasted at the chaos before my eyes. Piles of clothes randomly deposited on the floor and empty chip bags, surrounded the unmade empty bed in the center of the room.
Ugh. He’s almost an adult. When will he ever learn to clean up after himself?
Over in the corner, was a precariously balanced stack of boxed, new dishes, new comforter and sheets, and hastily folded new towels. Supplies for the future dorm room he would be moving into in less than one month.
It felt like just a week ago, not two months ago, that I had fought back tears every day leading up to my first baby’s high school graduation. For weeks, I’d spent countless hours sorting his childhood pictures to create a slideshow to share with family and friends for his graduation parties. I’d ordered custom invitations, catered food, and bought cakes for the occasions. Yes, he did have two parties. One huge joint party with two friends, for their neighborhood and high school friends. The other one was smaller, just for our family. But, if you know Indian families, the family party really wasn’t small. We only invited our most intimate family and friends into our modest home. It turned out to be fifty people.
We kept two parties, not to segregate one crowd from another, but to keep our Indian family more comfortable. You see, at the party for his high school friends, we served barbecued pork and chicken, deviled eggs, and pasta salads with mayonnaise. Not a single vegetarian item was placed on the buffet table. Good eatin’ for my side of the family and our crowd. The graduates sat down together, and chowed down on the meat as if they’d never had a meal before. But, though the delicious smells from the buffet table made my stomach growl, I sensed that our Indian family, who are such strict vegetarians that they shun anything with meat products, including eggs, gelatin, or certain animal derived-enzymes in cheeses, would not love being around such a spread. I’m sure they would have graciously attended the party, but I did not want them to endure the discomfort of hunger pangs, while watching others eat sloppy barbecue sandwiches.
So, the evening after the graduation ceremony, we had our close family over for an Indian-friendly celebration. I asked a talented pastry chef friend to create two cakes, one made with eggs, and one vegan cake. Both were to-die-for. Family members showed up, arms full with aluminum trays of fragrant biryani, samoosas, budgya, and specially made sweets for our meal. We also had a table with hot wings and sub sandwiches for my family to enjoy as well, but we respectfully kept it away from the vegetarian buffet.
We spent the night catching up with family who, though they live in the same metro area, we are often too busy to visit with regularly. The best part of the night was spending time with my husband’s aunt. A tiny lady with an innate sweetness about her, she tearfully recounted to my son and I, stories of special moments she’d shared with my husband when he was a child. She’d told us about the special song she’d sung to my husband for his first birthday, forty-three years ago, and both he and she recalled the moment clearly. My husband had always been so special to her, and by her being with us on that special day, she shown us how special all of our kids are to her as well.
I watched my son pile up his plate with food, and savor every bite in those moments with his family. That night reaffirmed my belief, that for us, the differences in the two cultures in our family are a blessing, not an obstacle to overcome. We all get to have the best of two worlds, and get to hold the specialness of family tightly in our hands.
The stack of dorm supplies in my son’s room are a reminder to me that he will very soon be on his own, as scary as that is to me. We are going to send him with as many supplies as we can, to start him off in his new life as an “adult” in college. I will buy him plenty of Ramen noodles, a staple for rushed American college students, and fund his dining hall plan. My mother-in-law, on the other hand, has already taken his order for regular care packages from her. She’ll send him his favorites: rotli, peas kachori, mango pickles, and lots of chevro. He’s a lucky guy, because he’s got a lot of people who will always have his back.
But, I will not…I repeat…will not clean his dorm room. I draw the line with that one.