My Tiny Tags Reflection Coin Pendant is a daily reminder of my mom, Dr. Kiran Chadda. When I see the engravings, I think of her jubilance, conviction, love, worldliness as she helped young people from across the globe, and zeal for life. I was born in India, and it was all to thanks to her that we immigrated to the US and built our life here.
My mom was a beloved psychology professor at Jai Hind College in Bombay (Mumbai) and knew that if she were to follow in her older sister’s footsteps by pursuing higher education in America, it would lead to greater opportunities for me and our family. With pangs of guilt and a hopeful heart, she left for Washington DC to earn her second Master’s Degree (her first wasn’t recognized) from Catholic University and to search for a job in academia. I was a fun-loving one year old at the time and stayed back in India with my dad, aunt, and grandmother.
Every week, my mom would go to a pay phone with a fistfull of quarters, dial the operator to call long distance, and get patched through to say a brief hello to me and hear my giggle on the other end of the line. These few minutes carried her through week after week, until a year went by. Finally, her professors offered her a teaching position. She was ecstatic! My dad and I packed our bags, booked a one-way ticket, and boarded a plane bound for Maryland.
Five years later, my sister Monika was born. When she was just a baby, my mom spent her days taking care of us and teaching part time, and would stay up late at night writing her thesis. We were so proud of her when she earned her PhD in Industrial Psychology. I was ten; my sister was three. As we grew older, my mom continued to work part time at a local community college so she could be home after school and shuttle us to our extra curriculars, which included Indian classical dance, vocal music, Kumon, swimming, karate, tennis, piano and Hindi lessons.
Shortly after I gave birth to three kids (boy-girl twins and younger son), my mom decided to retire. It was at this time that she was diagnosed with aphasia, a neurological disorder in the prefrontal cortex of the brain that affects communication, namely speech. Nowadays, my mom stumbles on her words as she speaks. We can no longer have a two-way conversation the way we used to. Instead, we communicate by writing messages on a white board, notepad (even napkins if that’s all we have on hand), and via text messages on our phone so she can read and comprehend the topic at hand. It pains me to think that she was once a public speaker, leading lectures to auditoriums full of students and emceeing countless functions for our South Asian community and now, she is unable to express herself through spoken word.
But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my darling mother, it’s the power of resilience and acceptance. She has always led by example in teaching us that we have the strength to control many things in our lives and can always be of service to others, but we must also have grace and surrender when there are circumstances outside of our control.
I am so proud to be my mother’s daughter. Though I can’t communicate about my day-to-day tasks or seek out her advice, I know she understands me and empathizes. With every decision and good deed I do for myself, my husband, kids, family members, friends, community, and complete strangers, I think of her and the woman she was at my age. Selfless and bold. Kind and content - at every given moment.
The symbol of the elephant resonates most with me. In my Indian culture, elephants are considered good luck. Ganapati, the elephant-headed deity, is the remover of obstacles and helps negativity and toxicity fade away. For those of you who are part of this “sandwich generation” where you’re taking care of young kids and your ailing parents, I feel you. It’s heartbreaking and exhausting. But know that you are not alone and that you must lean on your village as a caregiver. We’re witnessing the life cycle right before our eyes. Use the tools, resources, and people around you to make the best decisions you can and feel at peace knowing that your seva (service) will save you.
- Kanika Chadda Gupta (@kanikachaddagupta)