July 28, 2010

{Self Reflection}

-Arjun Sen

{A Lucky Break}

Summer means more time for me with Raka.  She works with me and hangs out with me which means I get to see her more.  It’s kind of cool. 

But it has its share of challenges too. Raka now drives on her own and is trying to find her own social life. As a dad, I have to find the right point of balance, discipline, and boundaries. 

One such challenge happened last week.  We had another uneventful day at home and Raka was getting restless.  I completely understand that for me an uneventful day may be a welcome change but for a teenager it may be downright boring.  So at 5:30 in the evening Raka told me that she was going out with two girls Amy and Amy. The girls were taking Raka out for a surprise.  I did not like the surprise part at all. I raised my eyebrows and promptly enquired where she was going.  Raka was the smarter of the two of us as she responded back by saying, “Dad, if I knew where they were taking me it would not be a surprise.”

I consented to allow her to go on the strange outing as long as she informed me where she was once she got to the surprise spot.  She agreed and then left promptly.

Within minutes of her leaving I got a call from her.  She and her friends were planning to play fugitive in their neighborhood. Fugitive is the modern day version of hide n seek, where the seeker drives in a car to imitate the police. That whole thing with cars, and then it being played at night did not seem to be a “fun game” for me. It even sounded kind of dangerous.

I asked Raka what time she would be back. Her response was 11:00. I was startled.  “11:00? That is not acceptable.” 

Raka then pleaded her case that included amazing logic like, “I am a senior now. “  “It is summer and everyone plays outside at night.”  All these were not touching me or making me change my decision.  Finally I stated that I needed to meet the girls she was out with for me to consider any time beyond 10:00.
Raka and her friends agreed and came over.  I discussed with both and it seemed that they agreed in principle.  Then I offered them food and they obliged immediately.  After the kids ate grilled chicken it was close to 7:30. The kids were ready to leave but then I offered them a supreme movie watching experience.  They were excited and soon they started watching a movie. It was 9:30. Now they could play fugitive for one hour. 

That night I nervously sat near the window as Raka was out.  I was proud that as a dad I put all my effort into keeping the kids safe, but I wanted her home.

Raka came home a few minutes after the designated return time.  She complained that that game of fugitive was too short.  I nodded as I knew that the short game was not an accident.  I asked myself,
“Was this a coincidence? Was the chicken dinner and the movie a ploy to keep the kids home for a large part of the evening? Did I do right by delaying their fugitive game?” I thought and then told myself that I was happy that they were safe, I was happy that they had a good dinner, and I was happy they had enjoyed the evening. 

No, I seriously had no regrets.

July 20, 2010

{Not Again!}

A few months back Raka told me that we needed to arrange for her senior pictures.  I was excited as I thought we would go to the backyard and take a few pictures and then she would choose the best one. Somehow Raka read my mind and informed me that this was serious business.  There was one studio all her friends were going to and she had to go there too.  In mind I kept grumbling inaudibly, “Does it have to be so complicated? Why can’t I do it myself?”

She gave me the number for Vision Photography and I reluctantly called them.  To my surprise there was a 45 day wait. The only day I could book was for the middle of July.  As the balance was more towards demand than supply, I was smart enough to take the date.

As the date approached, Raka started prepping for the day.  Eight sets of wardrobe changes, hair done the day before and on the day of the event, then as I drove her to the studio she was putting lotion on her hands and touching up on her nail polish.  “Wow,” I told myself, “Isn’t it amazing how times change?  It was only two years back that she was selected for the school soccer team.  She lay on the practice putting green with her new uniform on as I took some cool pictures to forward to friends and family.  I guess she is growing up… but still, a studio?”

I realized that my disbelief would ruin her moment as she was thoroughly excited about the moment and I was kinda blah about it.  I dropped her at the studio, and then went to a nearby Noodles & Company to have a quick business meeting.  When I returned to the studio, I was informed that Raka was at the last phase of her session. When I walked around back, there Raka was, getting ready to change into her running uniform with Dave, the photographer, ready to walk Raka to the side street for the final picture.  When I saw Dave in action and Raka smile in pride as she felt important, I realized this was the right decision.  Just like I had initially thought of celebrating Raka’s sweet sixteenth birthday at Dave & Buster’s and then with some sweet prompting from her moved it to a French restaurant in downtown Denver, this time, not taking the pictures myself and bringing her to the studio was the right idea.  It was right because the smile on Raka’s face during the photo shoot was priceless.

And why else was the one moment of watching Dave take a picture of my daughter worth it.  Hmmm. Instead of explaining let me just show you the evidence:

July 13, 2010

{How Could I Do That?}

When Raka and I first rode bikes together it was cute to watch her try to keep up with me. Now when Raka and I ride our bikes to the park, she thinks it’s cute for me to try to keep up with her!  It was amazing to see her in front of me on the way to the park last week. I remember the two of us riding around the same Cherry Creek Reservoir seven years back.  I just cannot believe how time has simply whizzed past me! My baby is now a beautiful young lady!

A few times during our ride last week the chain in her bike had to be fixed and she pulled to the side of the path to do it herself.  I remember the days when she would make me fix her bike chain, but today it is different.  As we rode, we talked.  The talk was initially casual and then it became quite deep.  

As our conversation went on, I asked her something that was bothering me. Bothering is too strong a word, I should say instead that it was perplexing me. I asked her why is it that she and I are both interested in photography, but she does not take interest in the pictures I take. I also asked her why does not take pictures with me.

The whole thing was kinda odd.

Then Raka dropped the bomb on me. “Dad, of course you do not remember that one of the first times I took pictures, you were the first to see them. You did not like them, Dad. You said that the pictures were bad.  It is only when Oni kaka (uncle) and Mom looked at the pictures that I got praise and I continued to take pictures.” 

I was stunned. I was in shock.  Did I not learn anything from days of painting the red sky?  I was hurt, embarrassed and ashamed. It was true that we do not make the same mistakes that were made to us, we invent new mistakes. I was glad that in this case my brother and Raka’s mom were there to nullify my stupidity.

In my shame and embarrassment, I tried to argue with Raka. “Why would you listen to me when I know nothing about photography?” Raka simply stared at me. I knew that there was no denying that I had screwed up.

The rest of the evening I apologized and gave her hugs. Finally at the end of the evening, I told her that my mistake was in the past and I am seriously sorry about it, but I do not want that mistake to remain in the present.  Raka looked at me. With kindness yet assertiveness, she said, “Dad I had forgiven you long time back,” But she did not finish her statement, she had not forgotten. It made me sad.

The next day I got her a cute cup that is for cool photographers. I had gotten it for her birthday, but I decided to get it out early.  She smiled at me and said, “You are still trying hard to come back, aren’t you?”  She smiled.

Yes I was. It hurts to know that I was insensitive enough to hurt you, my baby. I know the pain is still real as you will not show me the pictures that I passed my judgment on. Maybe someday.

July 6, 2010

{Getting another question wrong? I do not think so!}

Raka was on the track and cross country teams her junior year of high school. It has been incredibly exciting to see her reach and break her own PR’s (personal records, yes this abbreviation stumped me too), but towards the end of the running year, she picked up a knee injury and has been in physical therapy and rehab ever since.

As part of rehab she has been riding her bike to the Cherry Creek Reservoir. Last week as she was planning to start her ride late in the evening, I decided to join her.  Before the ride our conversation was focused on each of our first bike riding days. I was telling her all about how I learned to ride a bike when I was visiting a dear uncle and aunt of mine in Assam, located in northeast India. As I was talking about my bike riding story, I paused and saw Raka staring at me. Lately I have become good at reading her question correctly just from her expressions. 

This time I looked at her and said, “I know you are wondering if I remember when you learned to ride your bike.”  I did not wait for her to confirm.  Instead I confidently went on to say, “It was at our house in Louisville, KY, when your mom and I were pushing your bike and holding onto you as you sat on your cute pink bike.”  

I have to confess, the pink part was a safe guess as Raka’s favorite colors those days were pink, purple, silver, and gold. I went on, “You looked back at us constantly as if you did not trust your mom or me. Then you were gone. You did not even realize when you had slipped out our hands and started riding the bike on your own, down the driveway, then into the neighbor’s yard.”  Wow, I could remember her expression that night so many years ago when she got back from her short ride. She was proud.  

Raka interrupted me and said, “Nope. I learned how to ride my bike in Denver.” 

I was perplexed.  How could I get this wrong, my memory was so vivid? Then Raka helped me with the clarification, “In Louisville, I learned how to ride with the training wheels on. The real bike riding started in Denver.”

I didn’t want to argue, but I knew this time I did know the answer.