Monday, February 8, 2021

I Want the Truth!

Preach Lt. Kaffee!

~~~

You Want Answers?

It never gets old. I've done it hundreds of times. But, it is still my favorite part of the day. 

Picking my kids up from school brings with it an energy that I badly need around 3:45pm each day. As they launch themselves into the backseat of my car under hurried pressure by the carpool monitors, they bring with them loud, joyful greetings, violent backpack drops and a couple of annoyed jabs at each other for an unintentional elbow hit. 

A few days ago, my daughter's energy was noticeably different from the moment she clicked her seatbelt. While my son was halfway through his usual onslaught of school news, I could see through the rearview mirror that my daughter wasn't quite herself. 

"What's wrong?" I asked her.

"Nothing," she responded. 

Having mastered the art of the "Mom Nag" I didn't accept that dismissal since her watery eyes and slumped shoulders were telling a completely different story. 

"Friend stuff?"

"No."

"Are you feeling sick?"

"No."

"You seem sad, are you sure you're okay?"

"Yes."

"Are you just tired?"

"Yes."

We stopped at a stoplight and I mentally reprimanded myself. 

Let it go, Sheevani! Yes, she's clearly upset about something, but maybe she just needs a minute. Give her space!

Then I remembered she had her math test that day. So much for letting it go.

"Oh! How did your math test go?" 

"Fine."

"You think you did okay?"

"Yes."

Sighhhhh. I was getting nowhere and with the rise of frustration in my chest, I decided to really let it go this time. She will tell me when she's ready... or she won't. These days her friends got most of the chatty attention via FaceTime or texts. I begrudgingly accepted her mood and asked my son to continue about the news of his day.


Code Dread

Unit, Corp, God, Country... aaaaand Consequences

~~~

About a half an hour after we arrived at home, I received an email from my daughter's teacher. The subject read, "Incident from Study Hall." A warm wave of panic made its way down my arms. I could hear the shower running upstairs. My daughter was busy washing the day off of her, no doubt scrubbing away what I was about to read. With a deep breath, I clicked on the message. 

My daughter had cheated on her math test.

The words bounced around in my vision and the phrases "meeting with the Dean" and "detention" and "disappointed in her behavior" jumped out and stung me like hot oil spattering from a pan.

I took another deep breath. I re-read the email after my heartbeat slowed and I could absorb each word.

Since she'd been having some issues with her math test, her incredibly kind teacher allowed her some extra time at the end of the day to complete her test. She was given this time during the study hall period which is where students work quietly at their desks. My girl started getting frustrated and visibly upset which prompted a couple of her friends to go over to her desk with the intention of comforting her... which led to them helping her with the test problems. When the teacher saw this, she reprimanded all three of them. 

Okay. So it wasn't a situation where she had conspired to cheat on her test. Whew... it was a relief to know my daughter wasn't a totally different person than I had known for the past 10 years. What happened was sort of... accidental cheating, but cheating nonetheless. She certainly knew she should have told her friends, "Thanks, but no thanks." 

As I let the situation settle into my consciousness, I felt a range of emotions; disappointment, worry, confusion. After I cycled through my initial reactions, I felt... anger. Anger because she had lied to me over and over again in the car and then again after we got home when I gave it one last effort to get her to open up about what was wrong. Her lies came out as effortless as reflexes... and that crushed me.

Knowing my girl and her lifelong reputation as a people-pleaser, I knew getting in trouble must have been devastating. Every conference or casual encounter with her teachers since daycare never failed to entail some comment about what a delight she is to have in class. My daughter thrives on this. In fact, the previous night was our parent-teacher conference where the same teacher who caught her cheating had clutched her chest when she expressed how much she loved our daughter. "I absolutely ADORE her," she had said. 

The hiss of the shower ceased. She was done. 

No doubt this was brutal for her, but she still lied to me repeatedly. I was experiencing both anger and sympathy, the combination of which left me with an unexpected stoicism as I climbed the stairs to confront her about what I knew. My legs were moving at a slower pace, weighed down by the realization that this was the angriest I'd ever been at my firstborn child.

"I just got an email from your teacher," I said. She was standing in the tub wrapped in her towel. Maybe I should have waited until she was dressed. 

"Oh," she said and looked down.

"Yeah," I said. We stood in silence for a few seconds. 

"She said you're going to have lunch detention next week and..."

My girl buckled at the knees and started sobbing.

"Oh NOOOOO!" she screamed. 

"Hey... heyyyy. Come here," I pulled her up and wrapped my arms around her, my shirt soaking in the dampness of her hair. 

Her cries came from deep inside her and then she started shouting into my stomach.

"I'm the worst kid! I'm so sorry! Punish me however you want, I'm terrible! I'm such a bad kid! Everyone hates me! YOU must hate me! Dad will hate me! My teacher hates me!"

I swallowed hard. She was breaking my heart, but contrary to my usual empathic ways, I felt no tears coming. I was still too mad at her for lying to me. This was uncharted territory for both of us. 

"Stop," I said gently and pulled away, "you're not a terrible kid. You made a mistake. You made a big mistake. I don't want you to think you're the worst kid, that's not true. You're a really good kid who messed up and now you're going to have to deal with what happens..."

She nodded her head and wouldn't meet my eyes. I saw the goosebumps on her arms and her kneecaps bouncing with chill. 

"Go get dressed and we'll talk about this some more... go. Oh, and no iPad for tonight and maybe the rest of the weekend, okay?"

For the next few hours, Paul and I dealt with our distressed daughter. After exchanging emails with her teacher, we understood better the next steps and discussed with her how to navigate the toughest challenge in her young life. 

"Look, I'm actually glad you're this upset, hon, " I said, "it makes me feel better that you understand just how serious this is."

"And we don't hate you, sweetie," Paul reassured her, "we love you so much, we know you, we know you're a great little girl. But when you make a mistake, you have to accept the consequences."

She was snuggled up in the crook between her dad's chest and chin when I decided to finally bring up what broke my heart the most. I'd kept it at bay until she was calm enough to hear it. 

"So, I have to say the thing I'm most upset about is how many times you lied to me today."

Her exhausted eyes looked at me with regret. 

"I mean, I asked you at least 10 times what was bothering you on the way home. I even asked specifically about your math test!"

"I know," she said softly.

"Honestly, that's the worst part of this whole thing for me. You've lost some trust with me today. That doesn't mean you can't earn it back, but knowing how many times you lied to me during that car ride home, I... I don't trust you as much as I used to," my voice was thin and strained. She was hearing me, but my hurt and anger made me continue.

"Even if you think I'll get mad, you HAVE to tell me the truth. Believe me, if I catch you lying, things will go WAY worse than if you just tell me the truth in the first place, do you understand?"

"Yes."

"Please don't lie," my eyes were closed, "please, please don't lie to me. Seriously, it's my number one rule... DO NOT LIE."

"Okay, I'm sorry, Mom."

I opened my mouth to say it again, but one more time felt repetitive. Her eyes were fixed on me and I could feel that moment - my voice, my words, my expression - was making an imprint. 

Will she lie to me again? Of course she will. But at least she knows where I stand on the matter. 


ARE WE CLEAR!? Crystal.

Watch out Colonel Jessup, Kaffee's GOT YOU!

~~~

One of the most jarring things to accept as a parent is the pace at which your kids grow. Sure, legs get longer, chubby feet elongate and the tic-tac teeth disappear... but the mental and emotional growth spurts are what keep me out of breath on a regular basis. Parenting my daughter through this experience was both draining and rewarding. For reasons that are so painfully relevant right now, I cannot think of a more important lesson than accepting consequences when you make a mistake. Hang on, I need to state that again...

ACCEPT THE CONSEQUENCES WHEN YOU MAKE A MISTAKE.

Since our children are witnessing too many adults acting in such foolish and shameful ways, I find myself pushing hard on these life lessons. Lessons which used to be so fundamental but are now being treated with suspicion and hypocritical caveats. I mean, it used to be a bad thing to lie. Remember that? Lying would actually get you in trouble. Now, we are trapped in this backslide where all the things that used to make you a bad person can often be rewarded. I have never been more motivated to fight against the normalization of lying and for fundamental ethics. 

Paul and I also made sure to dispel her of any presumption we have of perfection. We told her we expect her to make mistakes, that mistakes were a part of life. Stories were told from our own lives where we'd messed up and had to face tough consequences. 

"The most important thing is that you learn from every mistake," Paul said.

"Exactly. If you keep making the same mistakes over and over again without learning from them, that's when I'll be disappointed." I said.

My daughter was in a funk for the next couple of days, and that showed me she was on a path to regain some of the trust she'd lost. She even self-grounded herself from her iPad when I lifted the punishment. At 6:30 Monday morning, I found her sitting on her bed in tears. 

"I'm just nervous to see my teacher," she said, "and I'm nervous about the detention."

I was expecting this.

"I know, but this is what we talked about. Today you are facing the music because you were caught cheating. It will be tough, I don't blame you for being nervous. You got this."

She nodded and laid her head on my shoulder. I kissed her tear-soaked cheek before getting up to leave the room. Then, in a pure Mom Nag moment, I felt an urge.

"I'm still really hurt that you lied to me, you know. No matter how hard it is to tell the truth, please do not lie."

"Okay."

I had to say it again. Because unlike what Colonel Jessup believes, I CAN handle the truth!




Tuesday, January 12, 2021

A Love Letter to Taco Bell


I can smell this sign

~~~

"Would you like any hot or mild sauce?"

"Lots of hot sauce, please," my dad said. He paid for our entire order with a $10 bill and change left over.

"Okay sir, your order number is 44 and it will be out shortly, thank you."

"Just a second, I forgot something..." said my father with a sly glance in my direction. 

My dad looked up at the menu and gesticulated with his finger as if he was really searching for something. The cashier positioned herself in front of the register, her hand hovering over the labeled buttons. I could tell my dad was teeing up a joke, but surprisingly I couldn't guess what it was. He seemed to be stepping outside of his usual dad-joke routine. He smirked and then slowly looked at the cashier, his eyebrows raised.

"What is free?"

The cashier furrowed her brows for a moment and then chuckled. Her co-workers took secondary break from preparing food and turned their heads to look at my dad. All in unison they said:

"Smiles!"

Yeah, Taco Bell was our happy place.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A couple of mornings ago, my husband and I were adjusting our eyes and brains to the morning light and yes... as is the norm these days, we both grabbed our phones to see if we missed anything crucial overnight. After deleting the barrage of retail emails and skimming our news notifications, I heard Paul make a "huh" sound without any follow-up. "What is it?" I asked.

Turned out a columnist had written an article about Arby's... yes Arby's... and the important part it had played in his life. It was part of a childhood routine after church on Sundays and remained a constant comfort to him well into adulthood even as his career moved him to cities where a trip to Arby's required a long drive. Sure, the food wasn't anything more than mediocre, but the pleasures came from the comforts of that uncomplicated cuisine, ambience and moments with his father. Arby's just happened to be the backdrop for many of his childhood memories. 

As I stared up at our bedroom ceiling fan while Paul read the article aloud, I was transported to my own version of what this author was writing about. For me, it was Taco Bell, an absolute staple from my childhood and one that I still indulge in when I need a reminder of those simpler times. To say we were "regulars" at a few Taco Bell locations is an understatement. It was our most frequented fast food choice by far and I felt compelled to write about why we so often ran for the border. 

Brown People LOVE Mexican Food

My first job was hostessing at a Mexican restaurant in high school. Casa Lupita was a regular haunt for our family when we wanted Mexican food that was fancier than our beloved Taco Bell. A few months into my new job, a frustrated server came up to the host stand to peep the lobby and tip potential during the last couple of hours of his Saturday night shift. He did a once-over and groaned.

"You need something, Scott?" I asked while figuring out the next table in my rotation.

"I need you to not seat me another Indian table," he said half-jokingly with his voice, but un-jokingly with his everything else. 

I glanced at him and rolled my eyes and then noticed the lobby was full of my fellow brown peeps. 

"That's racist, Scott... get away from me." I retorted lightly. Our rapport had that odd air of an Indian 11th grader and a white waiter dude pushing 30, which is to say, I humored his dumb comments and he saw no flaws in his behavior. 

"What? I'm sick of getting stiffed by them!"

"Stiffed? They don't leave anything?"

"Well, no... but it's, like, 12 or 13% at the most when I usually get about 20%! Plus, they are high maintenance. Parties of at least 8 people and tons of substitutions. I work my ass off and only clear a 12% tip, it's bullshit."

Scott wasn't wrong about working his ass off. He was, by far, our best waiter. And as much as it pained me to admit, he wasn't totally off about his assessment of Indian folks who came to the restaurant. Hell, I had been part of those parties of 8 to 12 people (few families, ya know) and cringed when the parents would hound the server with a billion questions. They would ask them to double check with the kitchen about various things and a few choice aunties always looked at their plates with suspicion before raising their finger to ask the harried server, "This is vegetarian chimichanga, right?" As to the tipping practices by our parents, I had to plead ignorance since us kids were always on the opposite side of the table laughing from the sugar high of our Sprites and fried ice cream. But, speaking for my own parents and their affection for chintz, I cannot imagine they were tipping like Rockefellers. 

"Fine," I shrugged, "I'll skip you. But if they request a table your section, you're stuck with them unless you want to switch with Chantal."

"Shit... and that's another thing, they are never happy with the table!"

"Oh my GOD, I get it, you hate Indian people!" I shout-whispered into Scott's face.

His frustration softened as he looked into my eyes with regret. Perhaps it was the lack of political correctness in the 90s or the fact that I was 16... probably a combo of both, but I wasn't as mad about his bigoted rant against my people as much as I was annoyed with yet another server trying to influence my hosting duties! MY territory! 

"Well... I do love YOU!!" he said in a sing-songy voice while putting his arm around me and laying his head on my shoulder. Again, as most 30-year-olds do with teenagers. Shit, hindsight sure is creepy/creepy. 

"But seriously, why do so many Indians like Mexican food?"

"They just do, okay? I gotta go check tables." I hurried off to do my job, which did not entail explaining the inner-workings of Indian immigrant eating habits to a grumpy, racist waiter. As my eyes swept over the restaurant to assess the vacating status of the tables, his question did burrow into my brain a bit. We Indians loved Mexican food. Ugh, something else Scott was right about. My thoughts didn't delve too deep into the answer that night, I'm sure they were occupied with traumatic flashbacks to the Rachel haircut I had gotten months earlier, but now I can properly analyze the parallels between Indian folks and Mexican cuisine. 

Por Que?

After she arrived in the United States in 1974, one of the biggest complaints my mother had was with the blandness of American food. Indian grocery stores were in short supply back then, so much so that special trips had to be made over the border into Canada to find any decent Indian ingredients. When my mother gave birth to my brother in 1975, a friend of hers snuck Indian food into the hospital since my mother couldn't choke down the hospital food. Even today, my mother's eyes shine with the same relief she felt on that day when her friend opened her purse to reveal Indian flatbreads and shaak (spicy vegetable mix) still warm in Tupperware. 

"Oh god, she saved me," my mother says. 

One thing you cannot say about Indian food is that it is bland. So a lifetime of tasting bold spices doesn't just go away because you move to another country. Starting a life in a completely different land no doubt includes trying to find any comforts of the home you left while assimilating to the new world around you. Food is such an integral part of Indian culture so I'm sure it was difficult for those immigrants landing in the United States in the 1970s, their tongues longing for familiar bold spices in a sea of bland. 

For that reason, it's not difficult to understand why Mexican food appeals to Indian folks. Here's my completely unscientific analysis:

Spice

While the flavor profiles between Indian and Mexican food don't totally match, there is a lot of overlap with specific spices used in each cuisine. The majority of what you taste in Mexican food hits the same taste buds as Indian food and makes them dance. Plus, we especially love the options to bring up the heat of the food. Never did my father go to a Mexican restaurant without asking for the extra hot salsa or a side of pickled jalapeƱos to amp up his already flavorful dish. We Indians enjoy meals that we can taste long after we've left the table. 

Vegetarian options

When describing the quintessential American person, one often hears the phrase, "Oh, he/she is a real meat and potatoes type." We Indians, for the most part, embrace only half of that nutritional equation. While I did not grow up in a strictly vegetarian household, many of our Indian friends practiced vegetarianism for religious reasons. 

Mexican food is very adaptable to vegetarian options given that beans are a protein choice. Even if we didn't opt for the beans as a meat replacement, you could get a mix of spiced up veggies as filler in your fajitas, quesadillas, burritos... what have you. Mixing both veggies and protein in one dish is big in Indian cuisine. While Indians may do that with a curry or dahl, Mexicans like to do that and wrap it up in a crunchy or soft package! And again, all dishes adaptable to a meatless version. 

Full of bright flavors and vegetarian? "Done and done," says most Indians! 

Rice & Tortillas

A tortilla is like roti, naan, chapatti, etc. Rice is like... well rice. So... yeah. (I told you this was unscientific.)


Mane Taco Bell Joye Che (Yo Quiero Taco Bell in Gujurati)

Now that I've so precisely proven why Indians tend to love Mexican food... enter Taco Bell. Ah yes, Taco Bell. At the mere mention of the name I can smell and taste a very significant foodtrack of my youth (note to self, try to get "foodtrack" trending somewhere). Besides my mother's cooking, Taco Bell holds up as one of my favorite food comforts to this day.

In addition to the airtight reasons I provided above, in regards to Taco Bell, you can add another one: IT IS CHEAP and Indians are cheap AF. It's okay, I'm allowed to say this. 

Our visits were so frequent, we got to know the employees at our favorite locations. The one on Crooks Road was our "home" location, on the corner of Livernois and Maple was our "backup home" location and then the Saturday location was near Oakland Mall where my mother worked. At each Taco Bell, they knew to add extra onions to our bean burritos, make sure the tostadas weren't soggy and give my dad a side of green sauce (an elusive spicy sauce that wasn't even on the menu!!). 

We all loved it, but my dad was really our Taco Bell champ. A lover of food in general, my father was an equal opportunity employer between fine dining, chain restaurants and fast food. Every new introduction to a fast food menu was a source of excitement and usually a special trip was made to savor all the processed, salty goodness. I still remember when Taco Bell released the Gordita. My father saw the commercial and immediately said we had to try it. Off we went to our "home" location and a few minutes later my dad experienced a mix of emotions. While the actual Gordita satisfied his taste buds to the highest level, he bristled at how "expensive" it was. Paying over $3 for a single item was UNHEARD of with our usual Taco Bell orders, so he resigned himself to order his beloved Gordita only on special occasions. 

As I reflect now on those days, the thought of Taco Bell takes me back to a simpler time in my life and a time when I still had my father around. For a man who could get a overly serious about many things, Taco Bell brought him such uncomplicated joy.  More than craving an enchirito (ugh, which they took off the menu last year) or tostada, I crave those memories of my dad's frivolous giddiness while carrying a bloated bag of burritos, tacos - and if it was a special occasion - a Gordita. 

I rarely let myself enjoy Taco Bell these days, but every now and then I will indulge in all of it's cheap-ass pseudo-Mexican food glory. And I have to say, it RARELY disappoints. The flavor always comes through... and so do the memories. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

There are arguably better options out there when it comes to casual Mexican dining, but to me, Taco Bell will always win. As I find myself ascending in years, grabbing hold of those connections to my youth gets more and more elusive and slippery. Thanks to that Arby's article, I've gotten lost in the memories of Taco Bell... many of which aren't even very vivid or linear in nature, but are delightfully all-encompassing nonetheless. 

Thanks for the good times, Taco Bell... now, off to get a pricey Gordita in honor of my Dad.