6-month-old Mira is a joy to watch.
She has a pacifier in her mouth and an expression of intent concentration when banging a cardboard book with her hands. Throwing the book down, she looks up, stares at me, smiles like I never see an adult smile, strain to get up from a reclined position on her rocker, and lets out a deep sigh.
I could watch her all day long.
Let me correct that.
I wish I could watch her all day long.
Some afternoons I watch her for long periods when she is absorbed in her examination of a piece of paper, or when trying to fit her favorite toy frog into her mouth. At length, she will look up at me, smile, and hold her hands up, half expecting me to pick her up.
Whenever I pick her up, I give her some kisses, which she duly protests. It warms my heart when someone tries to pick her from my arms and she turns back to me with a look of betrayal in her eyes and clings to me. On those rare times when she willingly jumps out of my hands, only to Neha’s hands, I feel a pang of jealousy that is quickly forgotten when Mira grins knowingly. It is the other pair of hands that I know care for her as much as mine if not more.
I would be lying if I said this idyllic conjugal picture doesn’t make even me wonder if it is all worth it.
There are problems, there are questions, there are frustrations and doubts and yet we all find meaning in them. If not for Mira, there would have been something else that would have taught me different lessons in life.
At night, around 9 pm, I fight the temptation to stay up late and read, to catch up with stranger-friends, to unwind. Early mornings await with a fully charged tiny human rolling around, grinning, and cooing and stretching after a watchful night’s sleep.
Watchful, because I still dare not hit the bed expecting uninterrupted sleep.
I snatch what comes my way.
Work, for now, is punishing. I have young colleagues who have the time and energy to bring their best to the table and some empty nesters who are wedded to the job who come in fresh after a full night’s sleep and raring to go.
To young couples who ask me if having a kid is taxing on their lifestyle, my unequivocal answer is yes. It is. It is a huge dampener of fun, a tiring drain on energy and money, a time sink, and a commitment that is generally non-retractable.
Make sure as a couple you know what you are getting into.
In the afternoons I drag myself to the gym. My back and shoulders ache from constantly picking and walking Mira. I spend an hour at the gym more to quiet my fear of letting go of a routine that has helped bring stability to my life for the past two decades. That time has morphed into the time I use to catch up on life on my phone. I am one of those miller-around-the-water cooler-with-the-paunch guys.
The one thought that generally runs through my mind is the risk averseness that Mira has enforced on our immigrant family. With jobs tied to one of the most expensive cities in the world, we are constrained in our ability to buy a house and bleed rent money. On the other hand, the visa has us entangled and tied to our current jobs without scope to venture out and grow in our careers or move locations.
The alternative is to move back home to India.
India would mean better career options in the sense of job movement and an ability to set roots. Staring at years of the same role neither excites nor incentivizes both of us. However, a move back home would entail a drastic denial of a better childhood and growing up experience for Mira. No amount of “India has changed” has convinced me that she would have the same exposure and opportunities to engage in learning or leisure as when she grows up in the United States.
In a sense, the decision is made.
Neha’s visa is coming to an end and the firm is willing to aid, not guarantee, a return home. With the family split, like an inverted gireogi appa, we have to make our choices.
The first choice, a choice of prudence, is to move to India as a family, accepting the fact that growing up as a girl in India, among Indians, is good enough for Mira. The second is to choose to remain in the US trusting the precarious visa situation holds long enough and to stay put on a single income family (or move Neha onto my visa) and hang onto the thread of having our lives and decisions ruled by the whims of the visa grantors. This, by the way, is the lot of many Indians in the US. They put up a brave face and make the most of it, but I cannot help but see lives squashed under this oppressive force-fitting arrangement. The third choice is to let the family go and settle down in India to see how life suits them there while I work here for a little longer saving some more money and kick the decision down the road of permanent settlement before making a call either ways.
Whichever way I turn it around there is something to lose for somebody. I wish I was better informed in my formative years so that valuable years and money wouldn’t have been wasted.
However, this whole dilemma stems from a crucial trait.
A greedy trait of wanting equal opportunities. I want equal footing, or at least reasonable labor rights without having it tied to the employer, here in the US after having spent almost a decade here. A good life for my daughter and wife. One that maybe allows a little risk-taking, a little leeway. Not the interminably long, restrictive pathway to citizenship that the US prescribes.
There is typically a response to this assessment that I get.
“This is life. Deal with it. See how we do it without complaining.”
But therein lies the normalization, an acceptance of this unfair setup. The outrage should be eternal. Sure, it debilitates, but what is even worse is a resignation to this set of rules. Such a fatalistic acceptance of destiny scares me. More often than not it reminds me how easy it is to forget one’s potential under the grinding banalities of life’s bureaucracies. It takes the edge off one’s sense of worth. Those who forget the path traveled do no favors by refusing to acknowledge and highlight these very real roadblocks.
In a perverse sense, this is all for the good. This gives an underdog status. Stacked odds and closed doors make for better stories – better mettle if all things turn out well enough.
And that is the important thing to remember. That it has already turned out well enough in many ways.
Mira, playing in her chair with her frog, is oblivious to how portentous a decision is being discussed in the household, one that would decide her identity and freedom and the many million uninformed decisions and methods her parents made and pursued to reach a stalemate in searching for a home away from home.
Now and again she looks up and smiles at me. This morning I felt the beginnings of her first tooth peeping out of her bottom gum. I don’t know for how long more I can give her my finger to bite down on.