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This is going to be hard!

Madhukar Kumar

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To my regular readers, this article is not about technology, databases, AI or even gadgets. This is a an article about life. And my experiences. If you are looking for the regular flavor of tech, please feel free to skip this — Madhukar

September 2006. We were entering into fall.

Being this was California; some foliage had started to change colors while others remained stubbornly green. The sun lit up an impeccably clear blue sky and a few rays found their way to light up my daughter’s face as I strapped her in the car seat of our Blue Honda Accord. She did not complain about the sun in her eyes but when I planted a kiss on her soft, chubby cheeks, her left thumb found its way into her mouth. My wife and I quickly exchanged a knowing look as I muttered, “Well, this is going to be hard.”

Normally only one of us would have been driving our daughter because as working immigrant parents of two young children (three-year-old son and a three-month-old daughter) we had decided early on to split all errands equally. If one cooked, the other would give the kids a bath and clean up the kitchen. If one took the kids to the day care, the other would pick them back on the way back so that we could be more efficient with our time.

But today was different.

Today, both my wife and I were doing the same thing. We were taking our thumb-sucking three-month-old daughter for a scheduled thumb surgery.

At the hospital, the doctor went over the procedure with us again — “There is nothing to worry about,” he said reassuringly. Our daughter’s right thumb’s topmost cartilage did not separate at birth from the lower half so it was still bent, and the doctor told us they needed to make a small incision on the thumb’s cartilage and do it early on or the thumb would stay bent permanently.

Today, was the day when the procedure was happening,

As the nurses and the doctor fussed around our baby, she started to become agitated. Then came the medication and suddenly our daughter became calm. Or I should rather say, intoxicated. She looked at her thumb and moved it around curiously as if it was the first time she had noticed it. She started to say something, but her mouth moved in slow motion. It was as if a three-month-old had walked into a derelict bar that did not check IDs and gulped down a few tequila shots in a hurry.

Had it been another other chubby drunk baby, I would have found a way to crack a dad joke, but I felt a lump in my throat as the short, drunk sailor was wheeled into the surgery room.

After what seemed like an agonizing eternity but was only 45 minutes, the entourage of the doctor, nurses and our daughter resurfaced from the surgery room.

The doctor told us that everything went as planned and pretty soon our daughter was not only fully conscious but as the medication wore off, she was wailing in pain as loudly as any baby could physically pull off wailing. She wouldn’t stop crying all the way to the home as my wife sat next to her car seat and tried to keep her from messing with her now bandaged right thumb.

As soon as we reached home, as any self-respecting father in the 2000’s I switched on the TV and sat down with with crying baby in my lap who was still breaking decibel records by the second. I switched the TV to B4U, a Hindi music channel and suddenly there was silence in the room.

Still teary-eyed but absolutely mesmerized, our daughter was now fixated to the TV screen. For the next three hours, she silently watched the Hindi songs one after the other till she got tired and fell asleep, her left thumb now firmly in her mouth.

I am a music lover. I have always loved music and found it meditative, inspiring and a core part of my being since my childhood. This is one thing I have in common with my daughter.

But my daughter is not just any music lover. As the weeks rolled into months and the months into years, she learned how to play the violin, read, and write music. More recently she also started “arranging” music after she taught herself how to do it. She specifically reminds me that it is not the same as composing or writing music but that is what it seems to me when she plays back her “arrangement” each time.

Music is one thing but then there is choir. Our daughter has been in the choir for years and years and she loves it with a passion of a cult follower.

As for me, I hate choir. With a passion, if I may say so.

As a music lover and a kid in the 80s with delusional views of my singing skills, I volunteered to be in our school choir. I was in the 4th grade and was singing my heart out to a hymn in the school chapel when the assistant music teacher walked past me as if investigating a discordant voice coming from this side of the room full of choir boys. He stepped in front of me, looked me in the eye, and put his finger to his mouth indicating that I should stop singing right away.

I was the discordant voice.

I was humiliated and embarrassed as the singing continued with me standing still quietly amongst my class mates. My best friend who was singing right next to me burst into laughter as the teacher now walked away from us with a satisfactory grin on this face.

That ended my stint in the choir.

But I digress.

I should add that my recent hatred for choir has nothing to do with music. It is more of a calcification of a feeling of wasted time driving around and attending countless choir practices and performances. The feeling of not having control over my own schedule. The feeling of being coerced to do something that would not be my first choice.

First, you have to block your calendar either during the day when work excuse was not a thing or spare time in the evening or worse, the weekend when I would rather be catching a break from a 20-hour startup work schedule. Then as you drive up to event, there is no parking. Then you show up at the event and find all seats are taken except for the last seat behind the 7-foot human with a camera and tripod avidly filming the entire performance for the 48th time.

My daughter though, she still loves choir with a passion.

There is nothing in this world that can physically or humanly stop her from attending any practice or performance. In fact, over the years she went from a being a choir singer to group leader to being accorded the highest level that could be granted to any choir member — a Madrigal.

This obviously became a cause of disagreement between me and her. Recently she started driving and yes it did relieve me from not driving around for the practices but now I must wait till she is back late at night. My wife and I complain. More arguments. More yelling. More tears.

Then came the trip to Bali.

As Madrigals, the choir group gets to go to a choir trip internationally or to Hawaii once a year. Why, international? Beats me. As parents, you end up paying for the trip (it is not cheap) and then wave your kids goodbye as they miss school and head over to an exotic place to sing with kids on the other side of the planet for 10 days.

But the recent trip to Bali. That is different.

I drove up my daughter, now 18, to the airport and we talk about one thing that has been on all of our minds at home recently. What college is she going to go this September? Our experience of leaving our son to college three years ago had left us shaken. We were not prepared to suddenly see him fly the coop. It seemed so sudden and final.

Now it is Disha’s turn. As we talk about the west coast colleges vs the east coast and she criticizes my choice on songs on Spotify we soon find ourselves at the airport.

I planned to get myself a cup of coffee as my daughter checked in to a long serpentine queue in front of the airline with 50 other high school kids, all bubbling with excitement to be going to Bali. I make sure our daughter has the right cable to charge her Fuji camera (photography being another common trait between her and I) and walk over to grab a hot cup of coffee.

When I return, I see that all the kids are clustered together, some on their knees in the middle of the hustle and bustle of an international airport.

What the heck, I think to myself. Another choir performance?

The teacher was speaking fearlessly to the parents and the students alike. We are going to sing one song before we board the plane. It is called Butterflies. It is a song of love to celebrate the bright, beautiful, and short life of butterflies.

Then the song begins, and I catch my baby singing her heart out. I could hear her voice over everyone else. Every other kid was pouring their heart out too unfazed by the usual cacophony of the airport. The vast room suddenly felt full of love.

Then I suddenly realize how the years with our kids were like a butterfly. Bright, beautiful, and short.

And now my wife and I will be empty nesters as our once thumb-sucking kid is off to college in a few months.

As a drove back, I suddenly realize I was going to miss the choir. The driving, the waiting, the sitting behind the 7-foot human.

This is going to be hard.

Back home as I made my weekly video call to my parents, I found myself sharing how I felt with my parents. A few hours later, out of nowhere my parents sent a black and white picture of my mom with my brother and me in her lap to the family group chat. We go back and forth on why she would dress me up like a girl before my sister was born and then proceed to take a picture of the moment to capture my humiliation and freezing it for eternity. It was the 80’s, she laughs.

Over the back and forth of this chat, I suddenly realize, my parents clearly miss when we were kids as well and then flew the coop after high school.

My siblings and me. We were butterflies too.

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Madhukar Kumar

CMO @SingleStore, tech buff, ind developer, hacker, distance runner ex @redislabs ex @zuora ex @oracle. My views are my own