Kids Corner

Above: detail from a photo by Gary D. Tonhouse. Below, first from bottom: photo by Barbara Moore. Second from bottom: photo by Charles Meacham. Third from bottom: a painting by Diong.


The Empty Nest



I am sitting on the bed in my son's room.

Posters, clips, pictures, and other memorabilia from the last eighteen years speak of his multiple interests. But today, the slick LCD screen of his Macintosh is turned off and no pop-ups signaling instant messages from different friends are vying for attention. The speakers of the surround-system that constantly envelop the room with music from Airwaves, his favorite band, are quiet.

Anhad is at UCLA (University of California - Los Angeles, U.S.A.) going through orientation for freshmen starting college in the fall. The room is dismally lonely.

One more month and he would be moving to his dream school with the ardent hope of getting into UCLA's film program. It is an exciting time for him, the beginning of a long road that takes him inexorably away from home.

As I look around the room, gazing upon the different milestones of his life - the collection of beany babies, the big golden lion he won at a fair proudly occupying a place of honor on the top shelf, yearbooks from different grades, trophies and medals and rows upon rows of books - emotions of every hue and cadence dance on my mind's screen.

Feelings of nostalgia, trepidation, doubt, anxiety, concern, excitement, and hopefulness tangle with one another. 

It is the nameless dance of motherhood, whose rhythm is familiar and yet poignantly fresh each time.  I sit stupefied, gazing into nothingness, as the last couple of years go whipping past my eyes: difficult days of battling with a tough illness, breathless moments before finals, the intense anxiety of SATs and the relief of decent scores, the rough-and-tumble of adolescence, the joy of shared moments and silly laughter of small accomplishments and big dreams.

I wonder - where have the years gone? It seems like yesterday when I was holding him in my arms as a newborn, experiencing the wonder that every mother feels as she looks at the face that shall become her whole Universe.

Today, in the blink of an eye, he is an adult and ready to enter a new world and face its challenges. But is he ready? 

Beyond the facade of independence and the bravado of readiness, I see the pulse of hesitation.  A sensitive, caring, vulnerable and, sometimes, rebellious teenager at eighteen, in many ways he is still a child.

He wears his turban proudly, but shows his frustration when he thinks his beard looks shaggy. He wants to push the limits of how late he may come home at night. He tells my husband and me that we don't "get it". And yet, when the confusion of the world within and outside becomes a maddening labyrinth, he turns to us for comfort and guidance.

I wonder if we have done our job as parents. Is he well-grounded, along with being well-rounded as a student? Behind the bravado, is he truly strong? Strong enough to follow the straight and narrow path of Sikhi? As he crosses the threshold to enter a new life, will the teachings of our great Gurus remain his beacon?

My heart swells with pride to see how he has turned his turban into a fashion statement. On a certain day, an orange "fifty" peeps underneath a lime green turban that matches the layered polo shirts. On other days, it is a combo of pink, blue, yellow, turquoise, teal, or rust.  No color is too bold or too bright to be folded into neat pleats and meticulously wound around the head.

But it takes two kinds of gels AND two different sprays to settle his beard into a semblance of tidiness, with every hair in place just the way he likes it.

Will he give in to the expediency of the campus culture where the do-rags and caps have replaced the turban, or continue to take pride in his distinguished looks? Will he become comfortable with the hair on his face that completes his manly bearing?

Neither his father nor I will have any more influence over the choices he makes. The face he presents to the world will be the one he is most comfortable with. 

During a recent dinner with older classmates of a filmmaking course, he said "No" to an alcoholic beverage that was offered to him by explaining that he was underage!  Will the courage of his convictions find a voice that is honest and firm without being judgmental?

He has been taught the power of Chaupai and lulled to sleep with the soothing sound of Sohela.  Will he remain anchored to Gurbani in the years ahead? Will he eat well, drive safely, and sleep in time? Will he "hang out" with responsible friends and choose a mate who will pass on to their kids the kernel of Sikhi with the values of integrity, compassion and kindness?

"Stop!", I chide myself, he is only going to college and here I am, not only hearing the wedding shehnai, but also seeing him as the father of kids! Oh, the vagaries of motherhood!

I hope that the everyday lessons of Sikhi discussed and lived in the environment of our home - the melodious sounds of Kirtan to which he woke up, the Sikh camps he attended, as well as the monthly family kirtan-divans where he helped his father set up the sound system, sang occasional shabads with his cousins, and delivered an impassioned talk on Vaisaakhi - have collectively given him his groove.

I hope that Sikhi sidak is rooted firm and strong within him and the values of equality and respect for all are deeply engrained. I long to see his faith blossom and become a giant oak, spreading its branches in a glorious embrace of all that is worthy and beautiful.

Suddenly, the oft-heard words of the shabad reverberate in every fiber of my being, and my eyes well up with tears:

Poota mata ki aasees, nimakh na bisro tum kau har har, sada bhajo jagdees ...

This blessing thy mother bestows on you:

May He abide in your heart at every beat -

O son, ever may you remember Him,

The Lord of all! 

[GGS, M5, 496:4]



Conversation about this article

1: Pritam Singh Grewal (Canada), August 25, 2007, 12:38 AM.

My first impression, "It's a longish article, though gripping. Let me postpone reading it till I feel I can go through it without haste." But once I started, my journey into a wonderful world of the author's emotional reality wouldn't break or stop. A mother's world of normal fears, small worries, selfless love, hopes and prayers. My inner being spontaneously joins her wish that the promising boy succeeds in his intended career without losing his painstakingly developed saabat Sikhi siddaq.

2: D.J.Singh (U.S.A.), August 25, 2007, 4:06 AM.

It was indeed a pleasure to read this article. "Poota mata ki aasees" is a beautiful shabad. It is the best blessing any parent can bestow on their kids. May Anhad make both his parents and the community proud of his achievements!

3: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), August 25, 2007, 4:41 AM.

A beautiful, gripping piece. May Anhad discover the meaning of his name.

4: Tejwant (USA), August 25, 2007, 11:30 AM.

The title of your heartfelt essay reminds me of a book by Amrita Pritam named Aalnah - The Nest. It is a must read for all those who are admirers of Punjabi Literature. You and your husband have prepared Anhad(the name itself shows limitless potential) to use his wings in the real world, the ones he used to flap around the house with. Like a good filmmaker, he is enjoying his wild-angle view while soaring into the limitless skies so that he can freeze the time and store into his cinematographic hard drive, to be shared with others, when the right moment arrives. Now he can go and explore farther places on his own and come home and tell you all about what he has discovered, which stumbling blocks he was able to convert into stepping stones, and many other things that he is still trying to find the answers for, hence, better left unsaid. The spiritual twigs that you have shared with him will be used to build his own nest in this orchard of life. I am sure he will be able to find the tallest tree. With the tools sharpened by the daily Nitnem and habitual kirtan, along with the Shabad Vichaar that you two have instilled in him, he would be able to build whatever his Gurmat Autocad is capable of creating. No Jessi, the nest is not empty. You yourself were conducting the orchestra of the events, the symphony in perfect harmony, by making your mind and spirit the batons while looking around in Anhad's room. All those memories are present there. As someone said, a house can be filled with the tangibles but only the intangibles can fill a home. So Jessi, your home is full. It is okay if his room feels a bit empty.

5: Amrik Singh (New Delhi, India), August 26, 2007, 8:03 AM.

Despite the harsh fact that we have taken on patriarchal influences from the majority communities that surround us, we need to remind ourselves over and over again that it is the mother who ulitimately passes on the spark and flame of spirituality. In the rush to display the macho side of Sikhi, we have sorely neglected the equally signficant role of women in the building of the Sikh nation and psyche. No doubt, Anhad's father had as much to contribute, as did Jessi Kaur, in their son's preparation for this moment of "take-off". But this loving piece captures how equally crucial is the role of the mother ... be it in the construction of the hopes and dreams, or the day-to-day nurturing and nourishment, or in the veil of fears and apprehensions ... Thank you for reaching out and touching us, and transforming us with your words. I now understand, as I've never done until now, the look on my parents' faces when I first left home to go to University ... almost half-a-century ago!

6: Maninder (U.S.A.), August 26, 2007, 8:59 PM.

Very beautiful rendering ... a true depiction of heartfelt emotion. Jessi has very beautifully captured a mother's love, anxiety and hope for her child. With the Guru's grace, Anhad will, as I.J. Singh has already said above, "discover the meaning of his name".

7: Gurbux Singh (Chatsworth, California, U.S.A.), August 27, 2007, 11:04 AM.

Beautifully written. And I know you have nothing to worry about Anhad as he has an intelligent head on his shoulders. I saw how he conducted himself at the IIGS Camp recently.

8: Roma Rajpal (Santa Clara, U.S.A.), August 27, 2007, 12:05 PM.

Jessi, a beautifully written and extremely touching article! All mothers and fathers go through these mixed emotions as their children leave the nest. I am already missing my first born son, Mantej, who is a senior in high school this year ... even though he is still at home! I go to his room often for no reason, hug him for no reason, tell him that I love him for no reason, and just hang out with him for no reason. Sometimes, I just look at him for a long time, thinking of all the beautiful, joyous and precious moments we spent with him. The feelings that stir up inside me when I look at Mantej have evoke a desire to spend a lot of time with my other two children as well, Barik and Binti, who are 15 yrs and 10 yrs old. Time goes fast and soon, they will also be leaving the nest! Now, my conscious effort each day is to enjoy being with my three children like I have never enjoyed before!

9: Harpreet Singh (New York, U.S.A.), August 29, 2007, 10:06 AM.

Replying as a son, to your questions, O Mom - and Moms, Gursikh Moms, all of you who are sitting in those empty nests, on those empty beds - please don't worry, have faith in us, have faith in those tireless amrit velaas and nitnems you have fed us, have faith in your ardaas of every day, nay, of every moment! We, your kids, will surely come out fine, as we have the Guru's nishaaniyan, the kakaars; God willing, we won't wobble on the path, as it has already been well lit by none-else but the Guru. We have an ever-glowing and guiding light of gurbani with us. We assure you, O Gursikh Moms, that with each morsel we'll eat in the future, we'll remember every morsel you made us eat with "Japji Saheb first!" during the early years, and with "nitnem first!" in the later years of our time in the nest. We assure you, O Gursikh Moms, that whichever city in this whole wide world we'll settle down in, we'll make that city Anandpur with the satsangat of naam and kirtan every weekend. And when you'll visit us, you with your own moist eyes shall say, once again, "Pootaa maata ki aasees ..." Please have faith and wait for those moments when we'll visit you and can blissfully say: "Maayee khaatt aayo ghar pootaa ..." I am sure you and all the Gursikh Dads will feel proud, nay, even blessed, to be a Sikh that day.

10: Harsimran (Espanola, New Mexico), August 18, 2008, 1:16 AM.

He's a cutie.

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