I did not watch the 2019 Golden Globe Awards but wish that I had. I actually avoid all entertainment awards shows, primarily because the sight of the glammed-up stars causes me to feel frumpy while munching on popcorn in the elastic-waisted pajamas I wear around my house. This year Glenn Close’s acceptance speech for best actress in a motion picture was blasted across the internet the next day, and it almost made me cry. She spoke about her mother and she spoke about me.
“You know, it was called The Wife. I think that’s why it took 14 years to get made. To play a character who is so internal, I’m thinking of my mom who really sublimated herself to my father her whole life. And in her 80s she said to me, “I feel like I haven’t accomplished anything.”And it was so not right. And I feel like what I’ve learned from this whole experience is, women, we’re nurturers, that’s what’s expected of us. We have our children, we have our husbands if we’re lucky enough, and our partners. But we have to find personal fulfillment. We have to follow our dreams. We have to say, “I can do that, and I should be allowed to do that.”
It took me twenty-four years to follow my dreams. When I got married at the age of nineteen, I didn’t know what my own dreams were. All I knew was that I was hopelessly in love with my husband and whatever life we would make together would fill me up with glorious satisfaction. That little blond-haired girl from Memphis threw herself into becoming a perfect wife and perfect mommy. It took over two decades of ups and downs to realize perfection didn’t exist but happiness with myself could exist. Should exist.
In my early twenties, I tried to navigate the rules of my husband’s Gujarati culture. As a newlywed, I succumbed to pressure, self-imposed and family-imposed, to be an Indian wife in some ways. I kept my mouth shut and did was I was told, sitting at the kids’ dinner table sometimes because I wasn’t allowed to sit with the men and I didn’t belong in the kitchen with the women. I dressed in pretty saris for weddings, and I tried hard to learn to cook Indian food, because my husband was too darn stubborn to eat anything else. While living with my-in laws, I served visitors water on a tray. Inside, my true self revolted. But I wanted to please the man I so desperately loved by salving the family’s sting from gaining a white daughter-in-law.
Babies quickly came along. Lots of babies. I fell desperately in love with them, too and spent all twenty-four hours of my days for them and my husband. He and I found our own groove in raising them our own way and I exhaustedly relished rolling out Play-Doh snakes with them, embarrassing them in middle school, and cheering them on at games and chorus concerts. I fell short of becoming the perfect wife or perfect mother, and inside, my true self revolted.
So, I wrote a blog, published a novel, became a high school teacher, and then wrote a memoir that will soon be published. I even got interviewed on PBSNewshour – yay me. When I set my mind to something, I do it right.
My daughter doesn’t ask me for advice on how to live her dreams. She was born aflame with that drive. My boys, too. They all amaze me every day. But,I often receive messages seeking advice from young, white American women in relationships with Indian men on how to navigate the cultural differences. I tell them to decide with their partners to stay united against pressures, to compromise when necessary, and to always stay true to themselves.
My sphere of followers is small compared with Glenn Close’s sphere of the entire nation. I appreciate her reminder to find personal fulfillment and will continue to pay it forward. But, I still probably won’t watch awards shows because I’ll never give up my popcorn and pajamas. I have to be true to myself!