Today, it’s your birthday: your first one. Today we celebrate one year of you, three-hundred-and-sixty-five days of a whole different and magical world for all of us who know you. Your arrival, as your Gigi puts it, was “a total game-changer.”
This time last year, we sat in a hospital room with your Mama D, who was heavy in her pregnancy with you, tired, and ready. We spent much of the day waiting nervously on the sidelines, trying to comfort her while also wondering to ourselves how things would work. There is a lot of waiting involved in a birth, as it turns out, but it is not exactly idle wait time during which one can read a magazine or book. Nor is it really suited to conversation, because so much in those moments is uncertain; this thing that’s about to happen, it’s going to make everything different; it’s going to alter the color of your universe, but you don’t know how yet, so you don’t know what to say about it or in what ways to prepare.
Then, all of a sudden, you were making your entrance—sailing out into the world, a squalling, curly-headed thing and we were there to see it.
We thought you were going to be a girl; that’s what the ultrasounds had told us. We were blessed to have the chance to be there for the last one, to stand in the room and hear your heartbeat, see your floating image on the screen, as seemingly unreal as pictures from the moon. Your Mama D was so generous with us, handed over the rolled-up print-out for us to tack to the fridge, the computerized “It’s a Girl!” supervising our readying of the house and our life for you.
It didn’t matter to us one way or another, your gender. We had told your adoption agency that we were happy to be the parents of any child, and we meant that. So when you arrived, our little boy, the adjustment was easy, a matter of rolling words off of our tongues—We have a son—but also yielded a slightly frantic conversation that night, on the way home from the hospital, to figure out what we were going to call you.
We only had a girl name picked out: Jaya, my middle name, which I’ve always loved. But boy names had us stumped. We knew that your middle name would be Carroll, Gigi’s last name, and that you and I would share a last name, Mehra. For a little while, I thought about naming you after my father—your nanaji, whom you never got to meet. He died almost exactly six years before you were born, and though I am going to continue to do my best to make him present in your life, it will never not ache in my heart, his absence in your life.
Though he was a great man—generous, hardworking, unfailingly optimistic—and would have made a fine namesake, we ultimately decided not to call you “Subhash.” It’s a difficult name to pronounce and spell, and difficult, too, to carry the weight of someone else’s name and still find a way to make it your own.
Instead, we thought, we could give you your grandfather’s initials: SCM. That, then, meant we were looking for an Indian boy’s name that started with an “S.” I hate to admit that the origins of your name were so un-glamorous, but we literally consulted the internet and started scrolling through names on a website; your Gigi at the computer, me on the phone with your Nani. Then, as fate would have it, they both suggested the same name to me, at the same time: What about Shiv?
My friend Lisa recently wrote a beautiful essay about Shiva, the Hindu deity after whom you are named. I am including it here because she captures so powerfully what we hoped to give you when naming you after him; Shiva is a god of contradictions, both a warrior and a dancer, creator and destroyer, powerful and tender at the same time. To give you his name is to give you the belief that you, that all of us, are beings with great capacity—the capacity to experience conflicting emotions simultaneously, to tackle life with strength and grace, to be with difference without judging or fearing it.
As the great American poet, Walt Whitman, a favorite of your Aunt Coco and Uncle Dave, said: “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself; I am large—I contain multitudes.”
You, my son, already contain multitudes. You are the product of three mothers: one who birthed you, two who are raising you. You are Louisiana-Tennessee-India-Texas. You are black, white, and brown. You are gentle, loving, fierce, and wild. You were born into a society that is at once more free and just as flawed as it’s ever been. You are part of a family that represents a new America, a family that most people champion but many resist.
Here’s something that I want you to know, for whenever you read this letter and for always—your birth mother did not “give you away” or “give you up.” What your Mama D did was just the opposite; she gave you to us. If she gave up anything, it was her own desire, her own aching, irrational side that struggled, mightily, to let you go. In the forty-eight hours we spent with her and you at the hospital, all at once a strange kind of family, she was brave, gracious, and unbelievably strong. She brought you into this world and placed you into our arms so that we could give you the kind of life that she wanted for you, but could not provide. It was the most unselfish, truly loving act I’ve ever witnessed, and don’t you dare ever let anyone tell you otherwise.
There’s no way for me to know what you will have encountered by the time you read this letter—that’s part of the breathtaking experience of this thing called “parenting,” which as far as I can tell is like steering a ship into near-total darkness—but my hope is that you are living open to the world, hungry for experience and knowledge, quick to comfort those in need, and eager to listen and observe.
Don’t forget to eat some vegetables, read lots of books, and carry joy and gratitude in your heart.
I love you,
Last week, my in-laws came to visit for the Fourth of July. We see them more often now—every 4-6 weeks, as opposed to every 2-3 months—than we did before Shiv was in the picture. Behold, the power of the grandchild.
Having Jill’s parents here, or going to visit them disrupts our normal family schedule and seriously messes with our generally pretty healthy eating habits, but when I hear Shiv on the floor, squealing with delight as he plays with his Papaw, or get to watch Jill’s mother’s face light up when her grandson smiles at her, there’s no question that it’s worth it.
This visit, though, the most valuable and memorable experience I had wasn’t about Shiv at all; it was the twenty extraordinary minutes I spent with my mother-in-law, while everyone else was out running an errand.
My mother-in-law has Alzheimer’s; she is in some kind of middle stage, with a practically non-existent short-term memory and total inability to complete tasks. She is easily confused, and repeats herself a lot: asking the same questions over and over, reading us the same story from the paper five or six times in the course of a morning.
There is no part of this that isn’t awful. There’s watching my father-in-law watch his best friend of fifty-five years slowly lose her mind, there’s watching him watch her—his grief, his denial, his futile hope that she will “get better,” there’s watching her in the moments that she becomes embarrassed by her inability to remember or tries to cover up the fact of her forgetting. There’s watching Jill gently answer the question “Whose baby is this?”
But every once in a while, the clouds part, the fog is lifted away, and there are brief, fleeting glimpses of the blazingly competent, inexhaustible, opinionated woman that she once was. Such were the twenty minutes I got to spend with her last week, listening to her tell stories of her days as an ER nurse in the 1950s. About how rewarding the work was, and how she misses it; about the days she went home and cried, but never in front of patients; about meeting Jill’s father, a detective with the Shreveport Police Department, at the hospital when he had to bring in a suspect to be stitched up.
I believe in the power of stories—telling them, listening to them. I am so grateful for that twenty-minute reminder of the deeply human person who is trapped inside of my mother-in-law’s uncooperative mind and aging body; it is easy to forget her, sometimes, when I am frustrated at having to repeat myself or move around the dishes that she puts away in all the wrong places.
The stories we tell become who we are; if we don’t get to tell them, things get lost. Go ask someone—your parent, your spouse, your grandparent, your child—to tell you a story. Then listen.
After the parade of fried things that comes with a visit from the in-laws, I was craving fresh, fresh vegetables. Also, it’s approximately a zillion degrees in South Texas right now, so easy, no-cook dinners are a win for everyone. The tomatoes came courtesy Jill’s parents’ garden, the cucumber my mom’s, and the onion, bell pepper, & jalapeno were from ours.
We paired this gazpacho with a light salad topped with leftover shrimp, some wine, and ate cherries for dessert. I heart you, summer.
2 ½ lb. tomatoes
2 cups cubed bread
½ cup almonds
½ large red onion, peeled & roughly chopped
2 small or 1 large bell pepper, seeded & roughly chopped
1 cucumber, peeled & roughly chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded & roughly chopped (or leave seeds in for a spicier soup)
3 cloves of garlic, smashed
4 T sherry vinegar
½ cup olive oil
salt & pepper
serve with: sliced avocado, crumbled feta, and/or homemade croutons
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and process using a stick blender. Alternatively, process in an upright blender, working in batches if necessary. Taste and season accordingly. I found that I didn’t need to thin my soup at all, but you can do so with olive oil or water if you like.
So I wrote this book.
I wrote this book! [Ordering information at the end of the post]
“This book” has been a long time coming and a long time in the making; in its very first, very rough incarnation, it was my Master’s thesis. My father died during the summer between my two years of graduate school, which meant that my second year was largely devoted to trying to make sense of life without him, and the loss of him, and loss in general, via my writing. Needless to say, that version of this book was kind of a mess.
In the years that followed, I abandoned and then returned to the mess, adding, trimming, and trying to shape it into that elusive thing—a memoir. But this book didn’t want to be a memoir; it wanted to be a collection of essays. Once I figured that out, things started to fall into place. As a grad school professor of mine once advised, “Form is the structure of the mind at work.” Indeed.
Following Jill’s successful bout with cancer, I recommitted myself to the book project, and made a concerted effort to discipline myself to write every day, or close to it. Inspired by Jill’s own ridiculous discipline and foray into novel-writing, I made great progress and came very close to being finished when Jill and I received a particular email this time last year, telling us that a birth mother had selected us to be the parents of her child. In the flurry of activity that followed, the book project took a backseat to the baby project.
How many times is my life going to prove that the way I think things are going to look are never, in fact, how they end up looking? And that life’s way is usually far bigger and richer than my imagination’s? I always thought that I would write a book first, then have a baby. But as it turns out, I finished writing my book while on maternity leave with my sweet baby boy, and I’m releasing it into the world just a few weeks shy of his first birthday.
The Pomegranate King is a deeply personal collection of twelve essays (five of which I previously published here) on topics ranging from growing up in Memphis to grappling with identity to grieving a parent to falling in love to making meaning out of all facets of life. One early reader said:
This is the kind of book that makes you gasp out loud when you read a particularly beautifully written line, that has you scrounging for a pencil to underline a perfectly turned phrase. It’s a book for people who love language, who love food, … in fact, it’s a book for people who love, period.
I couldn’t ask for a better endorsement than that.
I hope you will consider reading and sharing about The Pomegranate King. I am grateful to all of you who have read and supported my writing work here on the blog for the last four (!) years; the discipline of a regular posting schedule and the pleasure of interacting with such a lovely audience have been absolutely essential in helping me complete this project. Last but not least, I welcome feedback from all of you, should you choose to read the book. A piece of writing is not real until it’s read, and I will be grateful for your honest reviews on Amazon and/or Goodreads. I truly hope you will enjoy reading it!
Here’s where you can find my book-
Order a copy directly from the publisher (print only)
Visit my Amazon.com author page (contains links to purchase the book’s Kindle and/or print versions, allows you to “look inside” the book)
Visit the Goodreads page for my book (lets you add the book to one of your shelves, allows you to read an excerpt of the book)