July 17, 2013
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,