“Amma, did you talk ‘normal’?”
I stand by the stove, trying to make sense of Pattu’s question. She had come bounding down the stairs, face scrubbed and smelling of mint and child. A hug, a glass of warm milk and a five minute conversation of my outing the previous night had brought on this question.
“What do you mean by normal?” I ask.
“Am I talking to you normally now?”
“Yes,” she says impatiently, wondering how dense could I be?
“Did you speak in English? You did not speak in Tamil right?” her concern is pressing now.
A light bulb goes off in my head. I nod, relieved to finally understand her concern. I reassure her all was well and the new friends I made did understand me and I was as normal as could be.
The conversation that had prompted laughter from me in the morning refused to let go of my conscious thought. What was normal? Why was it important?
I had stepped out of my comfort zone yesterday when I set out to meet a bunch of gorgeous women as part of a holiday book exchange. Walking along the sidewalk after dinner, I slowed my pace so as to reach on time and not early. I walked past their house a couple of times not sure if I had the right address. The holiday lights twinkled and glowed all around me. The darkness felt comforting in its ability to cloak everything including fear.
Hesitating just a second before pressing the doorbell, I drew a deep breath, reassured myself it was just a bunch of nice people and felt my body relax. The evening was everything I had thought it would be. Books, nice company, enjoyable conversation, great food and new friendship.
Everywhere I turned, there was talk about Christmas, kids, school and family get-togethers. All of these, I was familiar with. I listened as much as I shared and realized I had to start a few traditions with my daughters. If ever I felt out of place, it was in conversations that relied on a history of growing up here in the US. As people talked about shopping, about changing tastes amongst their prepubescent children, I realized these are things I will relate to in a few years.
The hyphen in my identity seems to have lost its sharp edges, blurring into soft, rounded shapes. If in the past, I have tried fit in and merge into the sameness, these days, I feel comfortable in my skin, content to let the brownness seep in the air, intermix and change shades.
Pattu’s question this morning reminded me of what it is like to be a child and want to be accepted by everyone. As we navigate the remaining years of school, I will have multiple chances to mull over what it means to be different in a world that cherishes ubiquity.