I found something magnificent in my mom's thoughtfulness.
Before her wedding, in her native village in the Cauvery delta [in Tamil Nadu, India], my mom painted on simple white cloth. She neatly folded her art and tucked them away. After her wedding, my dad's dad took one look at them, saw the artist in her and took the time to frame those paintings. When you rang the bell at his house, through the grilled gate, you could see her painting in the living room.
He proudly adorned her paintings in your line of sight as you entered his home. My granddad did it then. Today, it is my turn.
It was the summer of 2005. My 77 year old aunt (my dad's eldest sister) and her husband were visiting Houston. My wife and I wanted to host them for a few days during their visit. We called my mom in India and asked, "Any advice?"
I was half expecting - make them feel at home, show them around, cook some of their comfort foods, and offer them their favorite fruits etc.
My mom shared none of the generalities.
Instead, she said, "make it a point to walk them through the location of all snacks in the kitchen." And I am glad, we did. I can recall the trademark wisp of a smile on my aunt's face- something all my dad's sisters share. Seeing that made me happy - then.
As I ruminate over it now, I understand the subtlety in my mom's specificity. When we indulge a guest - we are pushing our version of a great host so that we feel good about ourselves. My mom's approach suggested otherwise - draw them into our circle of space through our most thoughtful acts. More importantly, let them enter the space at their own pace when you are not there.
The invisible shackles that great host miss and fantastic ones see.
Breaking those unseen but often felt barriers does something to people - it creates rapport. And great, long lasting relationships begin - both in business and life.
The same rapport was sparked when the Apple products came pre-charged for the enthusiastic customer - unwrapping it with delight. Steve Jobs design protégé Tony Fadell amplified it with the Nest thermostat. He engineered a key ingredient in every Nest box. An ergonomic, intuitive screwdriver that made customers feel good about their installation skills.
Like their talents, I marveled at my mom's ability to be laser focused on tiny tweaks that connects with the end-recipient in sublime ways.
Yet, I did not grasp a bigger picture of my dad's words- "if you [my mom] had a chance to complete a degree, you would have never married me." He would say it with pride and reverence to an equal - in his trademark smile. During all those growing up years, I heard him say that many times, in context. She would mirror his effervescent smile every time - not a word back, ever.
Now, I may know.
Here is a classic - a signature mom moment
It is one thing to dwell on hosting my aunt and a whole another to orchestrate a wedding. The complexity grows manifold.
A few weeks before my sibling's wedding in 2011, the parents from the other side were visiting her. The wedding was planned in their city of residence. Out of their regard for her, they asked, "every parent has a dream for their child's wedding, is there any we can help fulfill as hosts?" I was in the same room as her. Boom, she plucked one thought and doled it out instinctively. I did not see that coming.
Her words echo, "We will enjoy the wedding as planned through your dreams. At the marriage hall, my request is for sufficient blankets and drinking water near rooms."
South Indian weddings, both sides of extended families stay at the large marriage halls. The rooms are traditionally spartan resting places to experience the wedding merriment in close quarters.
In the grand scheme of weddings, the smallest off-beat detail is a wow.
What she really has in abundance
The common thread in all her thoughtfulness - the obvious - she picks one offbeat suggestion that is significantly impactful. The not so obvious - she stops after that one suggestion.
I find that incredibly hard. Especially as a parent when my young daughters seek my thoughts.
If I say the obvious ones - I do not trust them enough to figure it out. If I come up with a list - I have diluted my impact with trivial many. If I can whip up the best one - oh well, that is the wisdom of delighting your children with the essence.
Essence of my mom - through my eyes
There are two levels of you in Tamil language- neenga (you - said with reverence for elders) and nee (you - shared with youngsters). There is a third one - a casual tone used for someone larger than ourselves. In that tone, I want to share - aval appadithan. She is only like that. She is different in her thinking, magnificent in her thoughtfulness and stellar in her silence after the best insight.
In her presence, I feel an immersive aura of a fairytale. Pixie dust of wisdom sprinkled around that I love to cling on to - as much as I can.
A Dream Fulfilled
Every parent dreams to hear great things about their kids. More so, from the people they respect. Here is a dream with a different flavor of delight. I am one of the privileged few to read aloud to my amma [yes, that is how I call her] - a story of her own gift as seen through the eyes of her child.
Fits majestically to the persona of my amma- a thoughtful original, a standout who is blissfully unaware of her own, intuitive gift - until now.