Trapped, On My Cherry Blossom Driveway

reflections on International Woman's Day, 2018

It is pub day today for NFY2 (Yay!!).

It has been a cathartic process: writing it, talking about it, reflecting on it.

When I scheduled the release date, I spent a lot of time thinking about what the day meant and signified, and if this was a necessary observance. I have been asked often why I chose this day for a pub date, in Womens' History Month. I have often been asked to reflect on what all of this means for the Indian, Asian, and Asian-American woman. I reflected on the Mattel line of Barbies, of Mrs. Obama's portrait in the National Gallery. I have often thought about what representation really meant, what labels really did for those who identified a certain way.

And then something made me pause.

My teen and I had a 'heart-to-heart' moment a few nights ago. A small event triggered an avalanche of emotions. It had been a rough day for her, a rough few months. In the barrage of the challenges of being a teen, I heard the single, most disconcerting statement in a long time. It hit harder, perhaps because it came from a place of 'no-filter' candidness. She said something that will forever remain seared into my memory.

My 14-year-old shared that she sees no role models for her, adding 'except you' quickly under her breath, at the end of the statement, nearly whispering.

I remained stunned into a silence. Not for the honor but for the deeply raw emotions that spilled from her lips. My eyes burned at the absence of tears, for I knew this was not a place for them. I could find no verbal balms to soothe her spirit. My palms reached over to hers, merely grabbed them tight, hoping not to interrupt her revelation and cloud it with my own culturally conditioned excuses.

I am her mother. I am just her mother. Am I just her mother? At that moment the weight of motherhood became soul-crushing, because I had no real answers for her.

She continued.

Every one of her once idols has proven to be fake, biased, and superficial. It was increasingly difficult to relate to their image. They had fallen from grace. Her peers were shallow. When she craved an intellectual discussion, her peers pursued pop culture and consumer traps. She feared exposing her deep passions and creativity because she would be bullied, there would be name-calling, when all she wanted was to be accepted and recognized for who she is among her people her own age. She is different from them. And they don't know what to do with it.

She shared, that to her, the rhetoric “Be who you are” represented, and perhaps it was a Southern slang for, “Make sure you are always agreeable”.

She wanted to hang out with my friends, because her friends were no good at all 'this'.

Her words had slowly filled our car with a thundering noise that made me deaf to the world outside. Our cracked and aging driveway was littered with freshly shed and scattered cherry blossoms and weak twigs. Their delicate petals and sweet fragrance contrasted the raw conversations of the ugly state of the world, separated only by the metal of an idling parked car. It was as though we had driven off the pier, had plunged into the ocean, and were trapped by modern technology and seat-belts. The closed windows and the un-deployed airbags betrayed the impact, because the impact was not visible. And there would be no rescues, for no one knew we were truly trapped.

"Disappointment" is a shallow descriptor for her feelings towards the world. 'Trapped" is perhaps a better one. And in those moments, I was speechless.

It was excruciatingly difficult to hear that the world we are living in, was so clearly failing our future, our tender loved ones, even before the future arrived. We have burdened the next generation without giving them the strength and confidence to navigate it, or more importantly - the space to breathe in it.

When she took a pause to gather her thoughts, I shared my own. Many adults my age had dealt with this sort of disappointment. Teenage years were hard. Many adult women, had reached a point where they didn’t care anymore about what other people thought, especially about what men thought, and were fighting too, to overcome latent and lingering BS. It made them more truthful to who they were and many could genuinely be thoughtful towards others, offering empathy and nurturing enviroments to their young people.

But the burden remained on the women.

I also shared this note, written down a mere few hours before our conversation, never realizing that it might be what she needed to hear, her own mothers’ conviction about what it meant to be a woman, or a man, in this day, inner thoughts that preceded our conversation, and would not have changed regardless of what she had said to me that evening.

"For Asians (and their children), the cultural baggage they lug around harder to handle and negotiate. This culture is mostly introspective, it shapes a living culture through and behind the guise, the veil of (often) religious philosophy and within it, a general lethargy towards acknowledging that equality for men and women creates a robust society. It simply perpetuates a (false) hierarchy of convenience, in the familiarity of ritual and routine and systemic oppression of its women, using the concepts of ‘balance’ to continually push its own agenda. It is steeped in patriarchy, in bias, and in sexism. It deliberately strokes the (male) ego and then subconsciously finds new ways to pressure its women into a subservient status. Asian women’s life goals are often decided for them, under the guise of respectful consultation with elders. Their 'shortcomings' are pre-judged under the guise of “making them a better person”. Every time something does not go the way it is intended, it is not a factor of external issues, of the pressures on the women put by men, but Asian women are subjected to sitting in an isolating “punishment chair” of what they, the woman in that equation, could have done differently to prevent a “failure”. It always asks more of its women than men. It always has. But that has to change.

It is up to the woman

to find her feet.

Recognize

that she does not

need

"approval"

to be who she is

or

to pursue

her wishes

to possess,

to own,

to honor,

or

embody,

what she wants.

And, it will be

the test

of a true man

to not be blinded

by her brilliance.

There may be no wrong way to be a woman*.

But there are many wrong ways to be a man.”

She nodded. We hugged. I parked the car in the garage and we continued with our evening.

{* This tag-line is from the Nikes' commercial with Serena Williams, and inspired the poem.}

AUTHOR

Nandita Godbole

Once a botanist & landscape architect.

Now a personal chef & author, an artist, graphic designer, blogger & poet. 

 

Loves freshly brewed chai, the crisp salty ocean breeze, watching monsoon rains & walking barefoot through cold mountain streams. 

 

Believes in the strength, positivity of the human spirit. Is spiritual but not a fanatic. 

 

Mom of one. Two, if she counts her husband.

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